Heroes at the Board of Elections

It took me three tries, but I finally voted last week. While my wife and I marked our vote-by-mail ballots at the kitchen table, something distracted me and I misvoted. I remembered seeing some instructions about what to do if you ruined your ballot, and decided to try that route. The result was instructive and unexpectedly positive.

The instructions provide a phone number to call if you mess up your ballot. A million and a quarter people live in our county, and I expected a bureaucratic nightmare. But eventually a lady named Georgia answered. She told me to bring my spoiled ballot to the Board of Elections. She gave me the hours I could do that and assured me that I would have no difficulty finding her.

When I got there two days later, I found Georgia right inside the door. “Oh, you’re Mr. Lavezzi,” she said. “See, I have your name right here.” (Holds up a note that she had taken when we talked.) “We’ll get you taken care of right away.”

What I hadn’t realized is that under these situations, you don’t get a new mail ballot: you get a new ballot to vote in person at the Board of Elections. And a lot of people vote there early in person–probably a couple of dozen or so while I was there, in a rather large room with several voting stations. A poll-worker took my spoiled ballot, brought me a new ballot, and showed me to a voting station where I filled out my ballot. I was back in my car in ten minutes.

It was a busy room, with a lot of people going in and out. In this particular encounter, I probably met a half dozen election workers, and every single one was as helpful as they could be.

Our democracy is strained and political tribes are at each other’s throats. A lot of people question the legitimacy of the election process; but that doesn’t match my experience. Whether as a candidate or a voter, every encounter has been positive and professional. “Stop the steal”? I don’t think so.

When you vote, thank the election workers. Just try not to let your attention wander as you fill out your ballot.

The Impeachment of Henry II

December 1170: Henry II of England, furious over the resistance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, cries, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”1

While there is some question as to exactly what Henry said, there is no question that his words were incendiary, and no doubt about the result: four of his knights, considering themselves commissioned by their king, went to Canterbury Cathedral and hacked the “meddlesome priest”2 Thomas à Becket to death.

So was Henry just blowing off steam, or exercising his free-speech rights? Or was he, consciously or not, ordering the martyrdom of Thomas à Becket?3 Both Europe at the time, and the verdict of history, put Becket’s blood on Henry. In order to save his soul (and put himself and his kingdom back in good terms with the Church), Henry performed a rather spectacular public penance.

Washington, February 2021: As I understand it, one of the defenses made by apologists for Trump’s inciting his followers up to and including the January 6 Capitol insurrection is that he didn’t really mean what happened to happen. He was just exercising his First Amendment rights.

In a criminal proceeding, that defense might work. But an impeachment trial is not a criminal proceeding. US Presidents have access to the biggest bully pulpit in the world, and should be held to account for the consequences of their words.

Rome, all Europe, and history impeached4 Henry II. The House has done the same with Trump. Conviction in the Senate won’t bring back the victims of the Capitol insurrection, but it might be a minimum appropriate penance for America’s most irresponsible President.

Notes:

  1. In one version of the story, anyway. In another, “meddlesome” is replaced by “turbulent.” According to another, what he said was, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and promoted in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!”
  2. Or “turbulent priest,” “low-born clerk.”
  3. On the plus side, Canterbury’s status as a shrine provided the opportunity for Geoffrey Chaucer to relate the wonderful Canterbury Tales as a frame story set on a pilgrimage there.
  4. “Impeach” isn’t simply an American political term. See https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/impeach.

MLK Day 2021

Martin Luther King Jr. Day feels different in 2021. Following a tumultuous year and coming just two days before the inauguration of a new administration, this year’s MLK Day reminds us that freedom is never guaranteed and must always be defended.

Events of the past year have forced us to confront our nation’s complicated racial record, which has been filled with both great and sordid things. It seems that every step toward freedom has been followed by a setback.

  • The Founders created the freest society in history, with a durable system of governance; but to make it happen, they permitted the institution of slavery to be written into its Constitution.
  • A civil war split the nation, primarily over the issue of slavery. The nation abolished slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, guaranteed equal protection under the law to all races in the Fourteenth and suffrage to all races with the Fifteenth. Then that same nation permitted those rights to be denied during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era.
  • In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education desegregated the nation’s public schools, only to give rise to segregation academies, which continue to be enabled by today’s voucher programs and charter schools.
  • A series of legislation including the Fair Housing Act of 1968 desegregated housing, and white flight re-segregated communities.
  • In 2008 voters elected our first African-American President. Eight years later they elected a blatant white supremacist who did his best to reverse the policies of his predecessor. And then in November the largest popular vote turnout in American history elected a ticket which included the first black woman Vice President.

In two days, we will witness an unusual Presidential inauguration, celebrating the peaceful transfer of power in a city locked down following the first armed occupation of the Capitol building in over two centuries. State capitals across the country will resemble occupied cities.

Our nation’s seal proclaims e pluribus unum: from many, one. The testing of that ideal doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. One of our greatest challenges as a nation is to permit our diversity to be a source of strength and not division. We need to find our way to each other.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let us all pray for our country and commit ourselves to work for a future of justice, equality, and peace.