The morning I turned 18, it was a blindingly hot day in early June. And there were only two items on my agenda: Running to the post office in my little New England town to register for the selective service, and then zipping across town to town hall to register to vote.
After more than half a lifetime of voting and covering politics, I’ve never lost my giddiness to vote. And though I’ve lived in five different states, a different continent, and at least two time zones, I’m about 99.9 percent sure that I haven’t missed a single election.
And now, here in 2020, as the nation tries to survive the worst public health crisis in a century, and voters cast their ballots in a hugely consequential election, the right to vote is under a coordinated assault in my adopted home state of Pennsylvania, where the fight for the White House will very likely be won or lost.
I can’t help but wonder what today’s 18-year-olds and today’s new voters, who might be filled with the same giddiness over casting their first ballots, are feeling about this effort to silence them.
Does President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign have any idea of the damage they’re doing to the republic with a multi-pronged suppression effort that includes a blizzard of litigation and outright voter intimidation at the polls?
I doubt that they care, or they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. And it’s become a battle of inches.
Republicans were dealt a temporary setback last week, as the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request to fast-track their appeal of a law that gives Pennsylvania up to three days after Election Day to accept mail-in ballots.
But the court held open the possibility that it could rule on the case after Election Day, when new Justice Amy Coney Barrett – who sat out for the ruling – will be fully up to speed, and could vote to rule for the state GOP. As a result, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar has instructed counties to segregate late-arriving ballots that could end up being the subject of a court fight.
We know that Republicans are doing this because mail-in balloting favors Democrats. And in a state where Trump prevailed by less than a percentage point in 2016, every vote matters.
As enraged as I’ve been by this entirely unsurprising hardball, it’s been alternately encouraging and a little heartbreaking to see Pennsylvanians turnout in their thousands to cast their ballots before the window for early, in-person voting closed on Tuesday.
Despite the risk of the pandemic and voter intimidation, Pennsylvanians were still willing to stand in long lines, braced against a damp October cold, to make sure their vote was counted and counted safely.
And again, I have to ask myself: What message are we sending to those young voters? Or to the new citizens who fled exactly this kind of authoritarian nonsense so they could be a part of the American experiment?
Again, I think I know the answer. And my heart sinks over it.
We’ve been taking our daughter to the polls with us since she was a baby, so she’d know what it was like to vote, what it was like to be a participant in the affairs of the Republic. As a toddler, we’d show her which buttons to press so that each vote was tallied. The smile in her eyes is one I won’t ever forget.
Now that she’s in high school, she’s been filled with questions these last few weeks as I’ve told her about the court fights, the back and forth of the campaign, and what’s at stake Tuesday. She’s told us that she wishes she was 18, so that she could vote, too. I’m in no hurry for her to get there, but I love the sentiment no less.
Hopefully, it’ll be a blindingly hot day in early July, three years from now, when she goes down to register to vote. Hopefully we won’t have extinguished that light by then.
What we do next matters so much beyond Tuesday. And our children will judge us.
Copyright 2020 John L. Micek, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.