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Opinions & observations: Celebrating the joy of voting

November 2, 2020 Jerry H. Goldfeder
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I’ve always loved Election Day. There is nothing like the thrill of showing up to a polling site and seeing the crowds. It’s a day when each person knows their vote counts and we are all in this together.

This is our country’s 59th presidential election. Most have gone pretty smoothly. A few required court or congressional battles to see who won, but each time the winner has moved into the White House office and the loser went home. In fact, ten times in our history the incumbent president lost, and on inauguration day, he graciously (if not so happily) handed over the keys to the Oval Office. In one case, President Grover Cleveland, having lost re-election, came roaring back four years later.

Our peaceful succession rites are so embedded in our culture that several times the incumbent Vice President, when simultaneously running for the top job and presiding over Congress as the electoral college votes are tallied, had to announce his own defeat. The most recent example was in the year 2001 when Al Gore stood before the assembled House and Senate and declared George Bush as the guy who beat him. Hubert Humphrey had the same “honor” in 1969 when Richard Nixon bested him; and in 1961 Nixon himself announced that John Kennedy edged him out.

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Veteran election lawyer, professor and radio host Jerry Goldfeder. Photo courtesy of Jerry Goldfeder

Whatever happens – and I have a strong preference, of course – I am hoping that it is the voters, not the lawyers or courts, who decide this election. And it certainly looks like Americans are coming out in droves to make that happen. Just look at the lines we have seen all around the country. Voters are undeterred by the virus or the rain or cold. They are determined, even joyful. Indeed, the many restrictive voting rules are not stopping this march to the polls.

When I see this I am heartened. No matter how young or old we are, or how cynical or cool we may think we might be, it is inspiring. It reminds us that we believe in this country, and in our future. It reminds us of what Martin Luther King said – “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Progress is often excruciatingly slow, and there are those with knees on our necks as we seek justice. But we persist. We move forward. We stand in line. We vote.

To be sure, our democratic institutions need fundamental change so that no one is deprived of the right to vote. Perhaps next year such reform will come to fruition. In the meantime, take a moment to breathe in the joy of voting.

Jerry Goldfeder is a veteran election lawyer who practices at Stroock LLP in New York City, teaches election law at Fordham Law School and hosts Election Connection, a podcast on the public radio station WFUV. He is a volunteer lawyer for Biden/Harris.


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