Opinion

The people speak

There's a reason tens of millions of Americans have already spent hours waiting to vote

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

The line from the polling place spilled out the door of the town hall, curled down the driveway onto the sidewalk out front, and extended nearly out of sight before making another turn into an athletic field. There it continued to grow. People sat in portable chairs or stood scrolling their phones or chatting with spouses or friends, patiently waiting, quietly radiating intent. No matter how long it took, they were going to vote, and vote early, and their votes were going to be counted. Two volunteers walked down the line with a few dozen boxes of pizza, handing out slices. "Someone donated them," one of the volunteers explained, squirting sanitizer into eager, outstretched hands. Inside, as people fed their paper ballots into the vote-counting machine, a veteran poll worker marveled at the mood. "Everyone seems so...happy," she said. After four years of listening, Americans were finally having their say.

So it went this week in thousands of polling places across the nation. In the midst of a rampaging pandemic, people put on their masks, packed some sanitizer, and exercised their central right as citizens — a right grown more precious because it's been threatened. Election turnouts in this country are usually disappointing, even embarrassing: Just about 55 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots in 2016, which left the U.S. ranked 26 out of 32 developed democracies for voter participation. But Americans have been given a vivid demonstration that voting matters, that who occupies the White House and Congress matters quite a lot, and that the freedoms and rights we take for granted aren't assured. Millions of people who couldn't spare a half hour to vote in 2016 waited half a day to cast ballots in 2020. In what has been a brutal and dispiriting year, the long lines of determined voters are an inspiring sight — proof of the enduring power of the democratic idea. It is your turn now. Speak. Vote.

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