Today I am excited. This is not a new emotion. I get excited every four years on this day—the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. There are very few memories I have where I can tell you what I was doing on a particular day. But I know exactly what I did on Tuesday, June 21, 1994. It was my 18th birthday and I went to the Robertson County Courthouse and registered to vote. I had been waiting a long time for that moment and couldn’t wait to make it official.
The right to vote is also the privilege to vote, and it’s something I have never wanted to squander. On the contrary, I do it as often as I can. Every time I move the first thing I do is change my voter registration, and by my last count I’ve been registered in eight different counties. I have used four different types of ballots (although never the infamous “butterfly” style).
I volunteered for Bill Frist in Tennessee, supported Bob Inglis in South Carolina, stayed up late to see returns in the Jack Conway/Jim Bunning race in Kentucky, signed the petition for my friend Andy to get on the ballot for the school board in Virginia, and much more. I research candidates at every level, from the presidentiaI election to the local race for soil and water conservation supervisor. I am what you might call a motivated voter. Rain or shine, you will see me at the polls.
The right to vote is also the privilege to vote, and it’s something I have never wanted to squander.Click to tweet
The election in 2016 and the election this year have both been quite stressful. I love systems. I particularly love our system. And it’s difficult to watch it be taxed by such a polarized environment.
So as I wake up today, the question must be asked, why am I still excited? I could be voting halfheartedly, going through the motions. I could just give up on the whole thing. But that same old feeling is still there.
I’m excited because I still believe in our system, and I still believe that every time I play my role it’s a good thing. We can debate about the best candidate to vote for, the ethics of abstaining, the strategic wisdom of third party votes, and more. But the beauty is in the fact that we can talk about this. It wasn’t that many years ago that we were sharing pictures of citizens from the other side of the world holding up their fingers stained with purple ink, evidence that they got to use their voice for the first time.
That’s the point. It’s my voice that gets to speak through my vote. And I am left alone with the burden to decide in that moment, at every level. I have the right to state my preferences for local, state, and national offices, and I can do so as quietly or as loudly as I choose. I can shout from the rooftops through any range of endorsement options—a sticker on my car, a sign in my yard, a status on my Facebook, or an article in a public forum. I can stay less public with my thoughts but be willing to share them in personal conversations and even take a risk or two to respectfully make the case for my position. I can also keep my votes completely private and share them with no one but the machine, my own conscience, and the God who is sovereign.
My vote doesn’t belong to a candidate or a party, and it doesn’t belong to a voting bloc. It belongs to me, as a citizen of the United States of America. I know that in this season of division, I have friends and family on varied sides. That means some of them won’t agree with what I do in that booth. But that’s ok, because my vote doesn’t belong to them and their vote doesn’t belong to me. Respecting this right means that we respect each other’s decisions and we continue to care about each other tomorrow just as as we did yesterday.
I have done extensive research to know what I’m voting for up and down my sample ballot, and I have honestly wrestled with some of my decisions. There is something right about that. It means I have the privilege and the responsibility to think about things, and to give them great consideration. The choices on my ballot may be less than ideal, but it’s not every day that I get to do this. I will stand in line knowing the past and the future, and both will give me resolve.
I know that I will stand there because of the groundwork laid by others. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and their friends knew that the right to vote was “a fundamental article of republican government.” Soldiers fought on the front lines for centuries to protect and maintain democracy. And women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott spoke out in Seneca Falls so that I could speak out in my North Carolina small town.
I also know I will stand there with a future ahead of me that is full of hope. Eternity does not hinge on this, and I am thankful for that. I know that God sits on His throne and will still be there after the ballots are counted. I take this day seriously, but I am not afraid.
For many years we have rightly celebrated when we see countries around the world hold free elections. When a nation allows their people to speak, we know that this is a good thing. Today it’s my turn again. This election (like much of this year) has worn me out. But I’m headed to stand in that line with everyone else. There’s still something special about this day.
A version of this article originally published on Nov. 8, 2016.