Mary Schmich: To vote is to hope

Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune

I walked my ballot up to the drop box at the neighborhood high school last week, and for a few minutes, in the company of the autumn leaves and all those other voters, it was possible to believe that everything is going to be fine.

The majority of Americans would vote for sanity and decency. The votes would be properly counted. The world would never be perfect, but soon it would get better.

To vote is to hope.

I’d hung on to my ballot for a while after it arrived in the mail, keeping it within eyeshot so that I could hear it every time it asked, “What are you waiting for?”

I wasn’t sure why I was waiting. I knew who I was voting for and was eager to do it. I knew that the earlier we all vote the less likely we’ll be to get entangled in election shenanigans when the November deadline comes.

Still, the ballot sat there. I received a couple of emails from the Chicago Board of Elections warning, “Our records indicate that we have not yet received your Vote By Mail ballot” and providing a video tutorial in case I was confused. I wasn’t confused, and I was heartened that my ballot was being officially tracked, but I kept dawdling.

What was I waiting for?

I think I waited because the ballot represented possibility. It was like a gift you didn’t want to unwrap immediately.

But with only two weeks before official Election Day, I knew it was time. So I cleared the table, turned off the radio, found a pen that hadn’t run out of ink, read the ballot instructions, twice, and began filling in the little circles, as nervous as a teenager taking the SAT.

Because of the interminable list of judges — seriously, isn’t there a better way to organize that mess? — it took me a while. Then I checked and double-checked to make sure I’d voted the way I meant to, filled out the envelope, signed it, sealed it and walked it to the high school.

The day was pleasantly autumnal, and there was a line for people voting in person, just as there has been every day since early voting started.

Where did all these people come from? How did we ever vote in a single day?

These voting lines will go down in history as a vital image of this momentous moment in 2020: Americans wearing masks, keeping their distance, or trying to, standing in the rain or sitting in lawn chairs in the sun, snacking or knitting, grateful for the entertainment of their phones. Some of the lines, like ones in Georgia, are disgracefully long, but others are uplifting, proof of dedication to this essential democratic act.

I’ve walked past my polling place a couple of times every day since early voting started, and there’s always been a line. Sometimes a dozen people are waiting, sometimes several dozen. But if people are rushed, it doesn’t show.

And then there’s the procession of people like me, who arrive clutching the mail-in ballot they’ve chosen to deliver by hand.

“So many of those,” said the poll watcher when I slipped my envelope into the box in the school lobby.

I stopped to chat — masked, at a distance — with a few other voters who were walking in their mail ballots. A couple said they liked the extra security of bringing it in themselves. Others felt, as I did, that walking it in provided the best of both worlds: You got to take your time, in the comfort of home, to fill in the ballot, but you also got the sense of purpose, action and community that comes with going to the polling place.

The minute my ballot slipped out of my fingers, through the slot and into the invisible interior of the voting box, I felt two things. One was a pinch of worry. Who would open it? Who would tabulate it? Would someone decide my signature didn’t look like mine?

But the other, stronger feeling was relief, even exhilaration. I’d done my part as best I could, and it felt good to do it along with all the other Americans who were doing their part.

I walked away with a refrain in my brain: To vote is to hope. To vote is to hope. To vote is to hope.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

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