Newton City Hall, right near Newton City Hall

When Massachusetts announced it would allow early voting this year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take advantage of it. I like the annual ritual of walking to our local polling place after work on Election Day to vote alongside our neighbors, and I was afraid early voting would feel as impersonal as mailing in an absentee ballot.

Civic duty done.

I shouldn’t have worried. Today after lunch J and I walked to Newton City Hall to cast our early ballots, and along the way we saw a half dozen strangers sporting “I voted” stickers. One be-stickered man said hello as he and his partner passed, and his friendliness reminded me of the annual melting of New England resolve that happens on Marathon Monday. There’s something about doing your civic duty that makes even the most reticent New Englander a bit more cheery, whether that civic duty involves casting a ballot or cheering on passing runners.

He's with her.

At City Hall, a handful of volunteers stood outside with signs reminding us to vote yes to protect farm animals. Inside, a police officer sat quietly in a corner while a pair of election volunteers steered J and me to a check-in table where workers tapped our names into tablets, verified our address, and handed us a double-sided ballot and early-voting envelope.

There wasn’t a line to check in, but the dozen or more ballot booths lined along a nearby hallway were full. “At this rate,” an election worker told J as she applied a precinct sticker to his ballot envelope, “there won’t be anyone who hasn’t voted by election day.” Indeed, as of yesterday more than a tenth of all Newton voters had already cast their ballots, and who knows how many more voters will turnout before early voting ends on November 4th.

Newton City Hall, right near Newton City Hall

After I’d filled out my ballot and sealed it in its envelope, I had to wait at the ballot box while two adolescent girls in soccer uniforms politely asked the election volunteer if they could have a voting sticker even though they were clearly too young to register. The worker gave each of them two stickers: “One for this outfit, and one for your next.” Maybe in four years, these girls will be old enough to cast their own ballots, emboldened by the realization that they too can be President.

Newton City Hall

Today is Election Day, and for the first time in a half-dozen years, I won’t be walking to my local polling place. Now that I’ve switched my official residence from Keene to Newton, I’m registered to vote in Massachusetts…but since I teach in New Hampshire on Tuesdays, I voted via absentee ballot a week ago.

Newton War Memorial

I’ll miss voting in-person at my old polling place in Keene. As I described last year, my former polling place in Keene is the same place where my students vote, so there’s typically a line of young, first-time voters lined up to register, and this always strikes me as a cheerful sight: a tangible reminder of youthful hope and idealism in an age that too often feels jaded and cynical.

When you cast an absentee ballot, you miss out on the communal aspect of voting, with election volunteers checking your name off their rolls while other votes wait in line for their turn. When you cast an absentee ballot, you have an even greater sense of being just one vote–just one voice–in a sea of votes and voices. Dropping your ballot into a mailbox (like dropping your vote into a ballot box) feels like an act of faith: a love-letter to your fellow citizens that reads “I care enough to make my opinion known.” Wherever you live and wherever you vote, be sure to do so. Our country needs more love letters–more hope and idealism–and less jaded cynicism.

I snapped both of today’s pictures of the Newton City Hall and War Memorial on the sunny day last month when I applied for my absentee ballot.

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.