I love the coincidence of timing that places Election Day in the month when we devote ourselves to being grateful for what we have. Today I am grateful that I live in a country where voting is, at worst, an inconvenience, and usually not even that. I live in a place where I can vote on my way to or from work. My poll is in my neighborhood, in a safe location, and indoors. It opened early this morning and will be open tonight as I am trying to herd my son into bed. If I go at a peak voting time, I will wait outside in the cold for, at most, 15 minutes. Polite, quietly spoken people, some of whom are my neighbors, will offer me glossy pamphlets, book marks, and nail files in a last minute plea for me to consider voting for the candidate they support. They will smile kindly and thank me whether I take the proffered items or not. It will take a small fraction of my day, and in return I will be given a sticker proclaiming that I have fulfilled my duty as a citizen and several area businesses will reward me with coffee or dessert for wearing my badge of participation.
I live in a country where I will not be harassed or assaulted for trying to exercise my right to be counted. I will not risk my health or safety to get to my polling place or to wait there for my turn. I will not wait for hours on end for my chance to be heard. I will not be dragged out of line or followed home. No one will harass or threaten my children in an effort to keep me from voting. No one will intimidate me in order to sway my vote. The most threatening thing that will be offered to me will be the ubiquitous nail file. I will not even have to dirty my hands to stamp my thumbprint in ink. The process, for all that we like to complain about how contentious politics have become, is remarkably civilized.
And perhaps that is the problem. Our voting process is so civilized, so simple, so easy that we have left taking it for granted in the dust long ago. Now, we see it as a terrible imposition; something to be endured or avoided, like going to the dentist or getting our tires rotated. It’s a hassle. We have forgotten that people fought and died, and will continue to fight and die, to allow us the opportunity to express our opinion. We have forgotten that the rights we cherish and demand be honored—free speech, gun ownership, equal protection under the law—come at the cost of our participation in the process. We trade a few moments of our time on one day a year for the rights and privileges of citizenship. It is a bargain a thousand times over and one for which we should be grateful.