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  • David Horst

Touching democracy


I slit open the outer envelope, removed the inner envelope, verified a signature, opened the inner envelope, and removed the yellow ballot. Joining community members gathered in the third-floor hearing room at Norwich City Hall, I helped count and tabulate nearly 6,000 mail-in ballots for 14 hours on November 3. Once the ballots were flattened and assembled by precinct, we took turns feeding the ballots into the scanning machines and running tapes of vote totals for the local, state, and national candidates. The day ended, almost ceremoniously, as each of the poll workers signed the tapes verifying the accuracy of the count.

Ballot counting is repetitive and tedious, requiring the work of the hands and presence of the mind. Yet, for a brief moment, I held each ballot as if it was an object of reverence, honoring the time and attention individuals spent filling in the little bubbles of their chosen candidates and then signing, inserting, sealing, and dropping off or mailing their ballot to the City Clerk. All the candidates’ ads, texts, mailings, yard signs, slogans, and debates seemed small matters because now I had touched democracy at its most fundamental. As I held the ballots and witnessed the counts first hand, democracy became tangible in a simple but profound way.

Participation in democracy for me is both a civic and religious duty, especially during the past four years when our democratic values and institutions have been threatened and our religious differences exploited. Democracy encompasses all that makes up our civil religion: Our shared values, sense of belonging, shared purpose, mutual regard, commitment to liberty and justice, and sincere patriotism. Democracy also exposes our imperfections, hypocrisies, hubris, and prejudices. Democracy is messy, but sometimes democracy brings forth the sweet fruit of decency, honesty, and compassion. These, too, are things we can touch.


Photo: Holmberg Orchards and Winery, Gales Ferry, Conn.

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© 2020 by DAVID M. HORST