The Joy of Voting

It’s good for you.

People arriving to vote in the Republican primary election in Wilson, Wyoming, on August 16
People arriving to vote in the Republican primary election in Wilson, Wyoming, on August 16 (Patrick T. Fallon / AFP / Getty)

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Americans sometimes forget that voting is not only a right and a duty, but an experience that can make us feel better about our communities and system of government.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.


Civic Rituals Matter

I voted today. I cast a ballot in a primary election that, where I live, will not affect the ongoing fight to preserve American democracy but will have an impact on my community. A few names on the ballot had no opponent, but otherwise, I had a reasonable range of choices for state and local offices. (I am happy with my member of Congress, but as a rule, I don’t like to see people run unopposed at any level.) It took me about 10 minutes.

I won’t make the usual pitch here about getting out to vote, as tempted as I am to harangue my fellow citizens about their abysmal turnout for primaries. (Voters who complain about wanting more and better choices in the general election regularly miss their chance to influence those options.) Instead, I want to suggest that you rediscover, where possible, the joy of voting in person. The civic ritual of interacting with your fellow citizens is one of the many ways we build tolerance and resilience into our democracy.

I know that voting in person is difficult, even impossible, for many people, and I am not denigrating other means of casting a ballot. For most of my youth, I voted absentee so that I could participate in my hometown elections even after I moved. My first real job in politics was in the Massachusetts legislature, where I worked for my hometown state House member: a fine man and mentor named Ken Lemanski. But to vote for Ken when I lived in Boston, and later in New York and Washington, I had to get an absentee ballot. In the years before the internet, this wasn’t always easy or reliable.

It’s generally easier to vote today, but not everyone, especially working people, can block out the time. (This is all the more true in places where Republicans are determined to make voting as arduous as possible.) If you need to vote by mail or vote early, great. The important thing is that you cast your ballot by any means that gets your voice into the election.

Voting in person, however, renews a commitment to join the public space. It is, for a moment, a reminder that your vote is no more or less important than anyone else’s. You are made to realize that “anyone else” is the person in front of you in the line or next to you in the booth. It is simultaneously humbling and empowering.

My local polling station, like so many across America, is in a school, a place of trust and community involvement that is a direct and visible result of our choices on the ballot. I walked in behind a stooped, elderly couple who were having trouble walking; I had already watched them slowly make their way through the parking lot in a rainstorm. They and I were greeted by one of the many volunteers, and we went to receive our ballots. (Election workers, by the way, are some of the most civic-minded people you’ll meet, working a thankless job that is becoming potentially hazardous in parts of the country.)

We’re not that big a town—just a little more than 17,000 residents—so I saw familiar faces. The local cop was on duty, with the seal of the town and the American flag on his arms—a symbol that our elections are protected by the law. The volunteer who checked my ID was a local doctor who happened to be my daughter’s pediatrician many years ago. The gym itself is in the high school from which my daughter graduated.

My ballot was placed in a privacy cover, and a moment later, I stood alone in a voting cubicle, with only a pen and my power as one voter in a large democracy. I made my choices, then another volunteer directed me to the machine where I would deposit my ballot. He verified that it was accepted, and I was on my way.

Still, I lingered for a moment. I had no idea who in that room was a Republican and who was a Democrat, and I didn’t care. The workers, police, and volunteers were helping other members of their community exercise their rights as citizens of the United States of America (and as Rhode Islanders, of course), and in that moment, I felt the optimism about and goodwill toward American democracy that has eluded me for so long. I put on my I voted sticker—I am still wearing it as I write this—dodged the rain, and headed to a small local deli.

A man was coming out of the store as I arrived, and he held the door for me. He was also wearing his I voted sticker. We smiled at each other. Neither of us had any idea who the other had voted for, and at that moment, it didn’t matter. We were both Americans.

Related:


Today’s News
  1. Twitter’s shareholders voted in favor of Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover deal after Musk sent a third letter to the company seeking to terminate it.
  2. The prosecutor Ken Starr, who led the Whitewater investigation of former President Bill Clinton, has died at age 76.
  3. New data show that inflation remains persistent, moderating less than some economists had expected. Stocks plummeted.

Dispatches

Evening Read
An orange tabby falling in front of a black background
(Erik Carter / The Atlantic; Getty)

Cats Give the Laws of Physics a Biiiiig Stretch

By Katherine J. Wu

In October of 1894, at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences, the renowned physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey showed a series of photographs that sent his colleagues into collective uproar. In the flurry of accounts that followed, one conference attendee proclaimed that Marey had presented a scientific paradox that violated the fundamental laws of how objects moved.

At the center of the controversy was a cat. Specifically, a dropped cat that had, in midair, twisted to land on its feet. The fall wasn’t the problem, nor was the touchdown. The scandal was sparked by what happened in between.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic


Culture Break
illustration of the head and neck of person with long dark hair facing away on pink background, with same figure dressed in pink walking through blue tunnel from ear into small door in center of head
(Hoi Chan)

Read. Strangers to Ourselves, Rachel Aviv’s new book, explores what a diagnosis of mental illness obscures.

Watch. The Essex Serpent, on Apple TV+, is for viewers who want a dose of gothic romance with their supernatural horror.

Play our daily crossword.


P.S.

I mentioned that I don’t like to see politicians run unopposed, especially at the local level, where the barriers to entering politics are much lower. (My old boss Ken Lemanski often told younger people who wanted to be more involved in politics to run for local office, where they could surprise themselves—as he did—by actually winning something.) But I recall one politician whose ability to walk over his challengers never bothered me: Silvio O. Conte, the legendary Republican congressman from the First District in Massachusetts.

Conte represented MA-1 (I grew up next door, in MA-2) from 1959 to 1991. He never lost an election, usually raking in roughly 70 percent of the vote in his district. (The former Conte staffer Chris Farrell reminded me recently that Conte once ran a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination and beat a Democratic challenger in her own party’s primary.) Something of a character, he once showed up to the House floor in a pig mask to oppose pork-barrel spending. He was also a relic of a bygone time in American politics, and especially in the GOP: In 1982, he was profiled in The New York Times as a liberal Republican who was a thorn in Ronald Reagan’s side. He wasn’t a saint, and he wasn’t always on the right side of every issue, but he represented his district, his state, and his country with both good humor and tough candor. I hope that the American system can still mint politicians like that.

— Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.