After spending last Saturday attending an Emerge Vermont training session, I met my wife and kids at a church supper. They’d been to our Town Meeting, a quaint New England tradition of participatory democracy, where local issues are debated over coffee and donuts and a potluck lunch before we get down to the business of voting. Some towns still conduct voice votes according to Robert’s Rules during the Meeting, but our town has separated the meeting from the voting, which is now done by Australian ballot on the first Tuesday in March, which this year was Super Tuesday.
At the ,eeting, my wife had learned that our town had three open seats on the School Board, but only two candidates on the ballot. She and a neighbor joined forces to recruit me to run for the open seat.
Up to that moment, I’d been attending my Emerge classes without being fully convinced that running for office was really for me. Yes, I wanted to be more involved in my community, and I wanted to put my talents to better use in serving the public good, but I’ve never aspired to be a politician. I don’t crave attention. Self-promotion feels very uncomfortable and, well, wrong. Yet an open school board seat felt like a good place to dip my toes in the political pool: it’s something I care about (with two sons just starting their education), I have relevant skills (I’m a lawyer and a former teacher), and given the short notice, it wouldn’t require much campaigning.
My sons and I got some markers and made a few signs. I printed off strips of paper urging voters to write in my name.
On Super Tuesday, I dressed warmly (long underwear and extra socks) and spent the day shaking hands and asking for votes. Surprisingly, I had competition — another candidate also decided to mount a write in campaign after learning about the open seat. As he and I talked, it seemed we agreed on most issues, so we joked it was a win-win situation: One of us would win the election, and the other would win by not having to serve on the School Board.
Spending the day at the polls gave me a new perspective. I’ve always heard that young people don’t vote, and I observed some truth to that. Far more seniors came to the polls than younger people. They came with their canes and walkers, toting oxygen tanks behind them. They came by van from their nursing homes. They waited in cars in the handicapped spot for poll workers to bring their ballots out to them. Some of these people hadn’t been out of their homes in weeks or even months, because getting around is so hard for them, and yet they showed up to vote despite obvious inconvenience and discomfort because they consider voting a sacred civic duty.
I won that School Board seat by ten votes. Every vote counts, and as all those tenacious seniors know, voting is not a right to be taken for granted, but a responsibility to take seriously.