When I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, my polling place was Public School 38 in Brooklyn. The school was closed on Election Day as per New York State law, but there were students around. Being back in a school tickled my nostalgia, giving my pleasant flashbacks to elementary school — student art pinned up on cork boards, the smell of Crayons, the sight of desks and chairs made for short people — and it was enhanced by the notion that the institutions public education should dovetail with representative government. I left the polling place with an “I Voted” sticker and a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie that tasted like democracy.
Many more schools are closing for Tuesday’s election than normal, however, and it’s not to instill their students with respect for the democratic process, nor is it to allow school employees to vote more easily. Fears over student safety due to anticipated violence at polling places — many of which are in public schools — have led some districts to decide to suspend classes on Election Day, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. The article cited how districts in key battleground states, like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, "reportedly decided to close recently after parents raised concerns about this particular election." It’s a sad sign of how strange this election is and how bitter and partisan our politics have become.
Before I go on, I should clarify that, in my opinion, Election Day should be a federal holiday, so that everyone has a greater opportunity to vote. If it were all up to me, we’d turn it into a celebration of democracy, maybe even come up with our own version the “Election Day Sizzle,” the Australian tradition that pairs democracy and barbecue — after voting, you go and celebrate with a #democracysausage — and if there was ever a pair of American values ready to be wedded together, it’s those two.
Instead, we’re reverting to form in this country, where for much of our history, the polling place has been a site of conflict, intimidation, danger, and violence. For me, personally, the dissonance between the right to vote and the extent to which it is threatened is embodied in a video promoting Ava DuVernay’s documentary, 13th, which pairs footage from Donald Trump rallies with footage of African-Americans being abused in the 1950s by white mobs. While it's not a video of voter intimidation, it crystallizes, for me, the potentially dangerous influence mob rallies can have on turnout and how comfortable Americans feel exercising their right to vote.
My greatest hope is that Election Day comes and goes with solemnity, mutual respect, and (dear God) bureaucratic efficiency, and that it serves as a celebration of one of our most precious rights as Americans. Here’s hoping.