Amy Patterson By: Amy Patterson
Professor of Politics
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03 Nov 2020 : Voting in a pandemic

Today, I did what I think is the most important thing I could do for my country at this point in history. No, not paying my taxes, or following the law, or teaching young people, or raising children to follow the law. Yes, I've done those things, and I'm too old to serve in the military. Rather, I stood in line for 90 minutes with people in my small Tennessee community who showed up to vote when the polls opened at 7 am. It was cold and we stood outside during our first real cold snap (30 degrees F). I wished I hadn't worn my short blue skirt to go with my white blouse and red sweater. (Gotta look the patriotic part.) An hour to get inside; 30 minutes in the inside line warming up; 5 minutes to vote. A student asked me yesterday if there had ever been boring elections in the USA. The kid has felt inundated by media stories and worries about post-election violence, social hazing, and out-and-out hatred. Plus, voting in a pandemic is scary. Will everyone wear a mask? Will people keep their distance? (People at my polling precinct did.) My university has held a series of pre-election programs about civility. Yesterday we sent a list of mental health resources to students as well as post- election programming plans. Of course, because of this student's age, his only experience is with this election and 2016. “Yes,” I assured him, “there have been boring elections. Elections when the stakes weren't so high. Elections when you fell asleep on the couch watching predictable returns.” He replied, “I’d like a boring election.”

Yet, as we know, the stakes are high - the highest they have been in my lifetime-- and this hasn't been a boring US election. How could an election in a pandemic be boring or low-stakes?  You could feel the seriousness in the line of voters: folks who are my neighbors, coworkers and kids' teachers, all silently shivering, recognizing the importance, knowing it was bigger than any single person’s preferred candidate or party identification. My husband, ever provocative, made a bumper sticker that he plastered on the old Volvo the he drives through rural Tennessee to work. (This is a very conservative and deeply Christian environment). It reads, "Vote in Love." Lots of interpretations possible for that saying. I just hope that we do; we have; we will.  

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