Nov. 7 is Election Day — at least theoretically. In fact the election has been in progress for weeks, as residents fill out, mail in or deliver their ballots. This now quaint and inconvenient process (who mails anything these days?) was eagerly embraced a couple of decades ago by elected officials and bureaucrats. It was seen as progressive and economical — no more expensive polling stations, no more standing in line, no more disenfranchising voters without easy access to transportation on Election Day. Turnout would increase as voters sat around the kitchen table and made thoughtful choices.
What could go wrong?
Opponents charged that it would lead to fraud, manipulation and deceptive campaign tactics. They were incorrect, as voter participation increased and fraud has been extraordinarily rare. Governments saved money, voters had their voice and we all muddled through — so what’s not to like?
Let’s think about what we lost.
Between 1987 and 1997 I was deeply involved in Colorado Springs elections. I ran for the board in Academy School District 20 (trounced!), for an at-large seat on city council in 1991 and 1995 (won both!) and for mayor in 1997 (trounced again!). During that time there were three presidential elections and three off-year state and local elections, as well as three city council district elections.
Election Days were unifying and celebratory community events. To go to a polling place such as West Junior High School (now West Middle School) was to see democracy in action.
“I know how you’re gonna vote, John!” said one of my geezer homies, as we stood in line in 1996. “You’re voting for Clinton, but I’ll cancel you out. So go, and sin no more!”
It was lighthearted kidding, but we understood that we were beneficiaries of America’s greatest legacy. It was inspiring to join your friends and neighbors and exercise your right to vote, and to realize that each of us has an equal and undivided share in this great republic.
Election Days disappeared because they were inefficient, expensive and easily eliminated. In an era when local government spending in Colorado Springs was often harshly criticized, moving to the mail ballot was inevitable. But by eliminating this community ritual, we’ve devalued the act of voting. It’s not the foundation stone of democracy, but just another irritating task.
Those of us who grew up in pre-digital America couldn’t wait to vote. In 1952, I was the keynote speaker at the mock-Republican convention at Steele School, and eight years later I was furious that I was still too young to vote for JFK. Most of my former classmates are conservative Republicans, and they all vote. They haven’t forgotten what our sixth grade teacher Agnes Pace told us.
“Voting is a right and a privilege,” Miss Pace said. “Never forget the brave Americans who died to protect those rights. Honor them by voting when you come of age.”
In the 2016 election, more than 70 percent of citizens over 65 voted compared to 44 percent of those aged 18-34. Trump won two important categories: men and voters over 45. Clinton won women, Millennials and Gen Xers. If Millennial turnout had equaled that of the 65-plus cohort, she would have won easily.
Yet despite so-called “voter suppression” laws enacted by Republican state legislatures, it’s not particularly difficult to cast a ballot or register to vote. You do what’s important to you, and in these chaotic and interesting times voting may not seem like a big deal.
Stormwater? District 11? Local funding for Interstate 25? These are consequential measures but I wouldn’t be surprised if they all fail. Odd-year elections like this one belong to those who always vote. Can younger citizens beat back Douglas Bruce and his army of geezer naysayers? If not, our nascent economic boom may end abruptly.
“Companies and investors [considering the Springs] think it’s important that we invest in our community,” said Mayor John Suthers. “2C sent that message, but failure [of the stormwater fee] would send a very different one.”
Voting may seem abstract, isolated and alienating, while social media seems alive, immediate and connecting. We love our carefully curated worlds of illusion, just as Ryan Gosling’s character in Blade Runner 2049 loved his holographic girlfriend.
But while the young stare at their screens, the geezers are mailing their ballots. No country for old men? Quite the opposite.