On Friday came the news that I had been waiting for. Probably many of you, as well.
“Your Boulder County ballot has been mailed,” the email read. “Look for it in your mailbox soon!”
Finally. The last lap was in sight.
In recent years, most of us have had enough election fatigue to fill a book, and that volume is called “The Neverending Story.” No sooner does one campaign drag itself to an end than the next one sprints out of the starting blocks, demanding our attention. (And money. Never forget money.)
It’s not that we don’t care. If anything, the opposite has been true lately. People have gotten more passionate about their politics than ever – some from seeing just how much difference these choices can make to themselves and their loved ones, others from the sort of team loyalty that the Broncos used to excite when their roster was longer than their disabled list. We’re paying attention. We’re caring. We’re engaged.
We’re also very, very tired.
Some of it is doing all of this in the middle of Pandemic Land, of course. Captain America himself would be more than a little drained in his patriotic duties after dealing with the everyday realities of COVID-19 and its ripple effects. But there’s more to the picture than that.
And the biggest part of that picture is called certainty.
Colorado has had mail ballots for several years now. In most of those years, I have waited until the last possible day to fill out and hand-deliver my vote. Why? A desire for complete information – or, as I’ve always liked to put it, “I want to give the candidates the maximum opportunity to screw up before I make up my mind.”
There were always positions to be weighed, nuances to be studied, details to be considered. Even in the pre-mail ballot era, I could sometimes take a while – at my first-ever presidential election, in 1992, I wasn’t completely sure who my choice would be until three days before Election Day.
That’s not a problem this year.
I suspect that’s not a problem for a lot of us.
This year, my ballot’s likely to be returned within a day or so of getting it. And I know I’m not the only one. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found just 5 percent of voters were undecided – a five-point drop from the same moment in 2016. The lines are sharply drawn, the issues clearly demarked and for most of us, the choices were made long ago.
Which, of course, is one reason why the voices have been louder than ever. Why the stakes have felt so high. And why there’s been such a desire to just get on with it – and at the same time, an anxiety about what that might mean.
At its best, politics is the principle that “talking is better than fighting,” to quote an old professor of mine. It’s meant to be a way for people who don’t always agree to find common ground, or at least to work out how to move forward together.
But lately, it’s felt like just one step above war. And a short step at that.
I want my indecision back.
I want to be able to look at two candidates and say “Hm, I like what he said there but she’s got a point.”
I want to be able to consider a win or loss without dread. Trepidation, sure. That’s part of the game. But without a fear that either of the players is going to overturn the board.
I think we can get back to a place like that. Not quickly. Not easily. Not without work. But if enough of us want it, if enough of us choose it – both on the ballot and in how we live our everyday lives – we can get there.
We’re tired. We’re worried. But we can still make a difference.
Watch that mailbox.
Our next step comes now.