The year of the vote ends today: Be there

November 07, 2006|By C. Fraser Smith

I don't care what they say; I'm voting in person.

I'm going to walk down Calvert Street and cross over to St. Paul, taking in the candidates' poll workers in their Election Day hats - straw boaters festooned with bumper stickers. And I'll be looking for a long line outside the Margaret Brent School.

I hope I will be there for a long time - not because of computer glitches but because there are so many of my neighbors waiting there with me.

To me, Election Day is like Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving for democracy, a holiday to celebrate what wise people created in the faith that men and women could solve their problems without guns and bombs.

I will walk down the street remembering that others struggled and died to make election days possible and peaceful.

I assume every voter has spent some time looking over the candidates, grousing about the incessant TV ads and wishing for it all to end. My bias? People who want to vote in person have spent just a little more time on it all. They want that extra bit of participation.

They want to pull the lever, or close the curtain, or make the computer beep - or whatever it is now that signals the casting of a vote.

The process has been one of the biggest stories of this election, if not the biggest. Will the machines work? Will the check-in system allow eligible voters to vote where their registration cards say they should vote? Will there be breakdowns? And where will the breakdowns occur? In the suburbs, or in the inner city? What effect will doubts about the process have on the outcome?

These questions occupy us now to an extent that threatens to outstrip our interest in who wins or loses. Has this ever been the case before in the history of the nation? Maybe so, actually. People are saying Florida is the new paradigm, what every state will encounter.

The process has never been under such vigorous, sustained and high-level attack.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. urged supporters to bypass the new, computerized system and vote on paper.

I refuse. Of course I want my vote to count. But I think it was counted in races where the candidates I favored won - and lost. I'm not saying the system can't be improved. It must be. If we can invent it, we can perfect it.

Even for those who followed their leaders to the absentee window, the outcome is not guaranteed. I am guessing that more paper ballots have been stolen over time than cyber ones.

And you can't really escape the machines - or human hands, for that matter. The absentee process is an amalgam of old and new. After an absentee ballot lands, envelopes will be opened and the ballot will be scanned. Machines will ultimately do the counting, in other words.

Amid all the questions about the process, campaigns know the importance of Election Day turnout. Increasingly, elections are won at the 11th hour. A campaign's turnout team has the ultimate responsibility for success or failure. It has ever been thus.

Asked for his wisdom on how to win elections, Abraham Lincoln reportedly answered: "Find 'em and vote 'em."

It's the same this year - with an important difference.

One needs a few more words than Mr. Lincoln's five: Find 'em, convince 'em their votes will actually be counted and, only then, get 'em to the polls.

The wheedling and reassuring will come against the backdrop of voter suppression - dark threats about what will happen to you if you try to vote and your rent isn't paid or you have outstanding parking tickets. This sort of intimidation is now part of the electoral landscape. How sad.

But there's a final advantage to those who vote on Election Day. You've seen the entire pageant unfold. You can still change your mind.

With so many close races there's plenty of suspense. You and your neighbors will decide who leads Maryland and the nation - and in what direction.

Finally, of course, it doesn't matter how you vote as long as you do vote. Never assume your vote doesn't count.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column usually appears Sundays. His e-mail is fsmith@wypr.org.

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