Here's hoping

Because I live so close to Keene State, I share a polling place with anyone who lives on campus. That means during any given election, I see students lined up to register at the polls. Some of these students are registered in other New Hampshire towns but choose to vote in Keene, and others are brand-new voters, lured out of complacency and cynicism by the last-minute hope that they can make a difference.

I always get a bit choked up when I see students registering to vote. I remember the first time I voted: I was a college student in Toledo, Ohio, and voting seemed very grown-up and important. My parents are politically inactive, so voting wasn’t something I grew up with; the first time I voted, I felt like I was doing something mildly subversive, secret, and even forbidden: something my parents don’t do! I remember filling out my ballot very, very carefully, not wanting to mess it up: without having been raised to think this way, I somehow sensed that my private moment in a ballot booth was a sacred moment, a time when duty, responsibility, and hope culminated in the intimate act of setting pen to paper.

This morning at my polling place, there were several tables set up to process voter registrations, with two election volunteers at each table. During the time I stood in a short line waiting for my ballot, a steady stream of students stood, expectant and almost reverent, with forms and clipboards in hand while they waited their turn with a volunteer. “This is so exciting!” gushed one college-aged woman as she held her clipboard. At the table beside the line where I waited for my ballot, I overheard a seasoned election volunteer explain to a young African American man that he’d have to declare a party in case he wanted to vote in future primaries. “Is this your first time voting,” she asked, and he nodded. The volunteer beamed in response: “Well, it’s good to have you here!”

As one young woman finished her registration, another election volunteer pointed her to the next stage in the process: “Keep your energy up, because now you need to move to the last table, and they’ll give you a ballot.” As I got my ballot and walked toward a curtained booth, I saw yet another college-aged voter approach her own booth, a ballot in one hand and a skateboard in the other. These moments, as I said, always choke me up a bit. When I picture the “real America” that has been evoked so many times in this current campaign, this is exactly the scene I envision, with seasoned elders welcoming excited young people, black and white voting side by side, and there being enough room at the party for everyone to come as they are, even at the last minute, there always being a place for one, two, or countless more.