Of the many election columns I’ve written for this newspaper, this just might be the one I like most. It’s not about I VOTED stickers or Lysol-sprayed ink pens. It’s not about voters who dump their purses or empty their wallets at the registrar stations, searching—sometimes in vain–for a photo ID. It’s not about funny and not-so-funny things voters say to election workers. It’s not about elections when hardly any voters show up or about elections when long lines of voters stretch down sidewalks and around parking lots. It’s not about the sweet music of the spring peepers that inhabit the shallow pond near the Putnam County election office.
As a long-time election worker, I’ve witnessed and written about all those things and lots more over the years. But today I’m writing about a victory, not for any of the candidates I voted for—not a single one of them won or even came close—but for the United States of America.
The fate of our democracy hung in the balance on November 8, but the election deniers failed in their efforts to push it over the cliff. Voters across the country spoke loud and clear when they cast their ballots. They showed they trust the election process, no matter how messy and complicated and disappointing it sometimes is. Candidates who admitted—bragged, even!–that they wouldn’t accept the results of an election that didn’t go their way were, in almost all cases, defeated.
It’s an interesting notion, this idea that if you don’t like the outcome of a contest you don’t have to accept it. If your opponent beats you in a ball game, claim they cheated and your L will magically become a W. If you don’t win the best cornbread-contest at the county fair, yell at the top of your lungs that the judges weren’t fair and watch as a big blue ribbon is placed on your entry. If a competing candidate for a job you want gets hired instead of you, show up to work there anyway.
Grown-ups know life doesn’t work that way. Not in sports or in any other kind of contest, including elections. For more than 200 years, Americans seemed to understand this. You win or you lose and you move on. You don’t say, “I don’t like the way this came out so I won’t accept the results.”
That way of thinking could have changed forever on January 6, 2021–a day that will live in infamy more horrible than even Pearl Harbor or September 11–when a violent “Stop the Steal” mob, egged on President Donald Trump, stormed the U.S. Capitol and threatened to hang Vice President Mike Pence if he counted and certified the 2020 electoral votes. It’s precisely how dictatorships are born. But despite the terrifying and treasonous efforts of the insurrectionists, the fabric of our democracy held.
Would it survive the mid-term elections of November 2022? Only time would tell.
“Are you nervous about being an election worker during these crazy times?” people asked me when early voting started in October. My reply was always the same. You can’t live afraid. You go to work and you do your job and you hope and pray for the best and you do all this while putting up with a great deal of nonsense from a small minority of candidates and voters. Here’s what I know for certain. In Putnam County, Tennessee, elections are absolutely, positively run by the book and according to the law. I’m confident that’s true in most places. Election workers everywhere consider our jobs a sacred trust.
That’s why our hearts break when conspiracy theorists insist that—if things didn’t go their way— some kind of monkey business was going on. Here’s hoping the recent election will shut those people up and that they’ll climb onto their broken-down horses and ride quietly off into the sunset.
(November 19, 2022)