My Election Day began early enough for a few miles on the treadmill, a solid breakfast and then complete my grooming by wearing a bright white shirt, bright red sweater and my darkest "blue" blue jeans.
All by 4:45 a.m.. All so that I could be the Polling Site in Penfield, New York at 5:00 where I would work as an Election Inspector. Polls opened at 6:00 and would close fifteen hours later at 9:00 that evening.
Long day. Voter turn-out at our Polling Site exceeded 70%. We were well-equipped and handled the process - I thought - admirably. Working a Polling Site is my purposeful way of engagement in the political process sans partisanship.
But I did have a "moment" yesterday. A good moment!
I was working the voting machine itself, where - in Monroe County - the paper ballots are scanned and recorded. We are trained to avoid seeing the actual ballots as they are being cast. But sometimes, in order to help the voter, we do see their choices.
Yesterday a man (probably) in his late 50's to early 60's asked for my help. He was wearing the traditional garb of some mountain tribes: baggy white pants, a long, flowing coat with a stole around his neck reaching to below his knees. He was excited. His eyes glistened with tears.
"I am new citizen. This is first time I vote. I know I vote only one time. I have one vote. But I trouble with eyes. Will you help me? I know I want vote for this person."
He said all of this in a rush as he showed me his ballot. He had taken the "one vote" dictate to an extreme. The ballot had columns for all the offices being contested yet this eager new citizen had literally voted for only one person on the whole ballot.
He was entirely within his rights to vote for only one person on the ballot. Others had already voted only for their Presidential choice, leaving the rest of the ballot blank. How did I know this? They had asked me if they were required to vote the whole of the ballot. "No, the machine will only count the votes you cast and that choice is up to you."
I thanked the man for being conscientious with his single vote. But, sensing an opportunity in his enthusiasm, I told him he was entitled to vote for the other offices on the ballot if he so chose. Did he know that? Did he know casting his single vote didn't mean only one vote for the whole of the ballot, but one vote for the person of his choice for each of the offices?
He looked up at me through thick lenses and his eyes became thick with tears. "You mean I ... I (and he fisted his chest, thumping repeatedly) vote for President? For ... Senator? I get one vote for them?"
"Yes, sir. This whole ballot is your one vote. You only get one ballot. But you get to vote for one person for each of the offices shown on the ballot. I will help you ... "
He interrupted: "I ... get vote for President? Me?"
"Yes, sir, if that's what you want to do. You're a citizen and you're registered to vote. That's your right."
The man gripped my arm. He took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. "I never vote for leader. Never. First time in life I vote for leader. America! God bless America! I get to vote."
He went back to the little privacy booth. It was obvious the man had trouble because he labored over his ballot, head down and shoulders hunched with eyes close to the task at hand. Yet, when finished he stood in my line and when the moment came, stood proudly with his completed ballot. I didn't ask him any questions but only smiled, inviting him to insert his ballot into the voting machine.
When the ballot was successfully cast I asked, "Do you want an 'I Voted' sticker?"
"Oh, yes sir!" But he didn't want me to peel it off. "Tear paper for me? Please? Don't take off paper. I want keep. Want remember first time I vote in America."
"I can let you have more stickers, if you like." I showed him a small sheet of round 'I Voted' stickers, twelve of them stuck to a page ready to peel. "Let you have a whole sheet if you like."
"No sir. Just one. For me. I vote in America. First time. I remember. Always."
I said, "Sure," and tore off one 'I Voted' sticker from the corner of a page. He took it and put it in his wallet. Then he walked away.
My memory from yesterday's election will not be limited to who won or lost. Old retirees exhaust themselves in the service of elections many of their fellow citizens take for granted. My memory will include the humble patriotism radiating from one of my newest fellow citizens. We live in a great country.
My God is Sovereign. He was surely at work in yesterday's election and I praise Him for it. But I dare not limit His "work" to only the outcome of the vote. God was at work yesterday and He is certainly at work this morning, as our country adjusts to the new realities. Was His work yesterday an act of His judgment upon us? An occasion for renewal? Only time will tell. I am yet unwilling to regard yesterday as either judgment or renewal. Too soon, I feel.
But I am confident God will gain glory and do so in ways none now foresee. Steadied by that conviction: the Election is over and our national life (thankfully) moves on.
I will pray and I will act.
The joy of the Lord is my strength.