What Makes Voting Joyful?

For the past month, I’ve been sharing Grand Forkers’ favorite memories involving voting. When the project started, I reckoned it would interest local residents mostly. But the stories have spread around the globe; they’ve been read in twenty countries. Why? Perhaps because the tales artfully reveal the things that make voting joyful.

Voting is joyful when it’s meaningful, when it’s a practice imbued with purpose. That’s why so many of the stories concerned “big things” like community, family, history, self-awareness, and, yes, sometimes partisanship. Viewing the matter in this light illuminates why voter suppression is so odious–it divests lives of meaning, which is one of the building blocks of happiness. It also shows why many people, and especially younger ones, don’t vote. Most non-voters struggle to see why casting a ballot is meaningful. And the act’s significance can’t be imposed by others. Folks must make those connections themselves. In other words, you probably can’t badger indifferent individuals into voting. But you can encourage them to identify issues that matter to them. In fact, helping them find just one issue might do the trick. Once someone specifies something that’s important, the bond between their life and their ballot will be established, probably never to be broken.

It also helps when voting is fun. Inaccessible polling stations, long lines, and confusing requirements for casting a ballot divest voting of pleasure, which is the other building block of happiness. By contrast, in some areas, the polling station is not merely a place to hurriedly exercise the franchise but rather a community hub where one can while away the day delighting in camaraderie, coffee, and crumb cake. Even when that’s not the case, individuals find ways to make voting festive. Heading to the polls with kids, siblings, parents, friends, or co-workers is one popular practice, and there are countless others. Within our imaginations resides the kindling for joy.

I was struck by how some people, upon entering the voting booth, experience a transformative sensation, an exhilarating realization that, for one moment, they are the equal of all others. When the lever is pulled, when bubble is filled, when the screen is touched, the usual distinctions in society—between the rich and the poor, men and women, young and old, black and white, employer and employee—they all recede. Of course, this isn’t entirely true: thanks to the Electoral College, in presidential elections the vote of a person in Laramie, Wyoming counts more than that of their counterpart in Grand Forks, North Dakota. But otherwise, it is a magnificent fact that the ballot is no respecter of persons.

In conclusion, I want to thank Citizens University for funding this project and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota for helping bring it to fruition; the thousands of people read, shared, “liked,” or offered positive comments about the posts; and, most of all, the Grand Forkers who penned their tales. It’s been an honor and thrill—a joy, really—to share their stories.

Eric Burin

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