Yesterday, just as I have done for the past 2 1/2 years, I served as an election official at my local ward. The first time I did this was during the Presidential election in 2012, and I was assigned to a polling station on the University of Wisconsin campus. It was truly inspiring to see so many first time voters who were truly excited to cast their first ballots. Some were literally bouncing up and down with joy as they waited in line.
Last year, at my request, the City Clerk reassigned me to my local voting ward, at the Tenney Park shelter, and yesterday, as I registered voters (including my 18 year old son who cast a ballot for the first time), I realized how voting amongst one’s neighbors builds community.
This happens in many ways. Of course, at its most basic level, the very act of voting is an act of building community. Yesterday’s vote including an overwhelming act of building community as the vast majority of Madison voters approved a $41 million referendum to make many of Madison’s schools more accessible to all, and to improve their decaying infrastructure. Included in this referendum will be a long sought and desperately needed renovation of the decrepit theater at Madison East High School, where my son will graduate soon.
Sadly, local elections like yesterday’s, tend to have low voter turnout, which is a shame since the opportunity for community building at the local level includes electing members of the city council, county board, the mayor, and school board members, all of whom are critical to shaping our community in the days to come.
But there are also more subtle ways in which my experience as an election official helps build community.
- I registered a woman who rents the house across the street from me, which led to a conversation about her hope to buy the house and remain in our wonderful neighborhood.
- The woman who helped me register voters lives in condominium complex and was warmly greeted my many of her neighbors who came to vote.
- The Chair of the Madison Parks commission came to vote which led to an interesting conversation about upcoming improvements to Tenney Park, where our ward votes, and my discovery that Madison has over 200 parks!
- Many friends and neighbors took the time to greet me, each other & other election officials who are their neighbors and friends, building community with each conversation.
While many focus on the outcome of elections, and of course, it does matter who wins and loses, we should not lose sight of the uncounted benefit of voting as a critical factor in building community, and in my case, it is a community of which I am proud to help build.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.