Like most Americans, I exercised my civic duty yesterday morning and went to vote. But when I left the polling place, unlike an increasing number of Americans, I felt a spring in my step. My confidence was not the result of any electoral premonition; it derived completely from a unique voting experience that may only be possible in a very small town.
When I opened the door of the three-room Town Hall, I saw the friends and neighbors of both political persuasions at their monitoring stations (two rough-hewn tables flanking permanent white wooden, curtained voting booths that feature a space for filling out our paper ballots). The polling station had only recently opened, and yet all four of the booths were already occupied.
One of my very close friend sat at the first table, and after verifying my name per state law, we exchanged pleasantries as usual. Last year and on Vermont Town Meeting day, I was sitting at the other table collecting completed ballots, and as I took my paper, the memory of that day made the still-cool Town Hall meeting room feel warmer.
As a soon-to-be former Justice of the Peace for our town, I had monitored two elections, and, while my increasingly hectic schedule has made both jobs unfeasible, I did enjoy my experience. It wasn’t just a few hours away from work. It was a chance to visit with friends – voters and election monitors.
Baked goodies on the table in the Town Hall records room made the poll sitting experience festive. One neighbor dispersed empty ballots while I and another neighbor collected and sorted the completed ballots as friends and acquaintances filed through. We chatted with each other and with the other voters. Children were often in tow, the younger ones quietly cavorting in the open space and the older ones often accompanying their parents into the booths.
The setting and implied election ethics kept our conversations mostly to the weather and the upcoming gardening season. Sometimes a mention of one regulation or another law drove our discussion into what could have been minefields. The discussions, however, were lively and never heated, and, after living in this town for over a decade, I am no longer surprised.
It was an election, but, for our town, it was just another in a series of annual get togethers. It was a time, like many others, when we came together to eat and talk about the thing that connect us as a town. And it was time when we reminded ourselves that our common values of concern for each other’s well being and respect for each other’s independence far outweighs any disagreement we may have about politicians or parties.
So as I dropped my ballot in the box yesterday, I knew my vote would count and be counted. But I also knew, whatever the outcome of the national election and however divided our nation may be, our little town is still united.