Friday, May 28, 2004
Voting in an election, Carlisle style
With the 2004 Presidential election less than six months away, already we are hearing and reading about concerns with electronic voting systems — touch-screen terminals, optical scanners, and Internet based voting — that are expected to be used in many precincts around the country. After the "hanging chad" fiasco in Florida during the 2000 election, many election officials throughout the United States are not satisfied that the machines they now have in place will do much better in November.
I couldn't help thinking about this as I sat in the Clark Room at Town Hall on Tuesday afternoon handing out paper ballots to registered voters who came to vote in the Carlisle Town Election. I have served as an election official for about 20 years. There's one thing for sure: it's an honor to take part in a democratic process such as this.
Would I like to take part in paperless electronic voting, or to be voting from home over the Internet? Certainly not. Maybe our system seems inefficient, but it certainly is foolproof. Paper trail? You've got it. And just coming to vote at Town Hall with one's neighbors and fellow citizens is a plus, creating a sense of community and of belonging. How many places in Carlisle can one run into a former neighbor who has moved to the other side of town or exchange words with a teacher that your child once had years ago?
Back to working at the polls. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet and work with people of all ages. As a senior citizen, I enjoyed handing out ballots with a young woman who had a two-year-old at home and two other children in the lower grades. On duty for the four to eight o'clock shift, between voters we had a chance to share our thoughts on the demise of quality TV programming and the pros and cons of vacationing on Nantucket and in Westport.
Later in the evening, after the polls had closed, it was time to count ballots. I was teamed up with a young woman, new to town. There was little time to talk, but once we had tallied up the ballots in our packets, we found out that we both had grown up in the Midwest Minnesota and Wisconsin.
This was a spirited town election, with several contested offices drawing much attention from the electorate. For the 888 voters who took the time to educate themselves about the issues and the candidates and had come to Town Hall to cast their votes, there had to be a sense of accomplishment, no matter what the results. These days as we watch events unfold around the world, we can't help but realize how lucky we are to live in a democracy where we all can play a role in the events that will be governing our lives.
The end of the beginning
Like every season, springtime has its own telltale signs. It's no longer dark when we get up, and the sun lingers for a few extra minutes with each passing day. The ice cream stands are open again, crowded with little leaguers and soccer players. Multi-colored cyclists are back on the road, bent to their tasks. And of course, the mosquitoes have arrived — this spring in full force. Springtime is also the season of "commencement" — that oddly named ritual that punctuates the academic careers of our high school and college graduates. We all know that "commencement" means a beginning, not an ending, but in fact it means both, not only to the graduates but to the many friends and family who populate these ubiquitous springtime rites.
For graduates, commencement holds both anticipation and dread. It's the culmination of years of academic striving, triumphs (and losses) on the athletic fields, friendships made, and the confidence that comes with increasing maturity. At the same time, it undeniably closes a certain chapter of life; there simply is no going back. Graduation from high school often means leaving home — perhaps for good. Finishing college can be even more daunting, as newly minted graduates turn their attention to getting their first job or apartment, knowing that one is now an official grownup and (presumably!) responsible for whatever happens from now on.
For parents and grandparents, commencement is equally bittersweet. There is a great deal of pride in the accomplishments of their offspring, of course, as well as corresponding relief that those heavy tuition payments have at last come to an end. But the parents also know that their lives will never be the same. Gone are the routines of soccer practice or student council meetings, the pressure of homework and the SATs, and the stresses of who's in and who's out in the social scene. When the graduates leave home, as they inevitably must, something precious leaves with them — the need for their parents to nurture them on a daily basis — and this creates a bigger hole than either care to admit.
Commencement speeches run the risk of being clichés, but many are pretty good and reward careful listening. The best speakers try to make only a few simple points. Recently, Arnold Palmer spoke at Middlesex School. Telling stories of how he grew up and the people who meant the most to him (especially his father), he essentially said only this: play by the rules and try your hardest at whatever you choose to do. He said it in such a way that he connected not only with the graduating seniors (most of whom probably did not either know or care about his golfing career) and the parents in the audience (who did). Another memorable speech was given at Stanford by Carly Fiorina. Daughter of a famous judge, she was expected to head off to law school after college, but she quickly discovered (much to her father's dismay) that she was not cut out to be a lawyer. Dropping out, she got a job as a receptionist in a local real estate agency. That "failure" turned out to be her lucky break; she worked her way through business school and is now CEO at Hewlett Packard, something that never would have happened if she had not followed her instincts. Good advice for any age.
Commencement is one of those important rituals that connect the generations; it's both a starting point and a finish line. T.S. Eliot had it right when he said that "the end is where we start from."
© 2004 The