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October 19, 2020
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Finding Democracy in a Park

A man hands ballots to workers at a park table

Angela Major/WPR

Flash back to the 2016 election. I waited over an hour in my hometown’s city hall to cast my first vote for a presidential candidate. The line just to get into the building stretched all the way down the block. Once inside the main hall, the line snaked through rows and rows of chairs. People were relieved to sit shoulder to shoulder, only to have to stand up and scoot down the row every couple of  minutes. “This is like a weird game of musical chairs,” I thought to myself. I groaned whenever I heard someone else make the same joke. The whole thing felt ridiculous. Nevertheless, I finally cast my ballot and walked out the door with my “I VOTED!” sticker displayed proudly.

Flash forward to this election, and it’s gotten more ridiculous. We have folks in Georgia waiting five hours to cast a vote in the middle of a pandemic. We have an under-resourced postal service that is struggling to deliver mail on time. We have a president that continues to cast doubt on the validity of mail-in voting. Many states and municipalities have had to get creative about how and where people cast votes. Some are setting up polling places in sports arenas and drive through ballot drop-offs. Here in Madison, the city sent poll workers to more than 200 of its city parks to collect absentee ballots. They called it “Democracy in the Park.”  I went to a few parks to see how voters were feeling about the way we run elections.

What I found was a mix of confidence and disappointment. People were excited and energized about the city opening up avenues to safely, easily and securely vote. At the same time, a lot of people acknowledged that the system isn’t perfect and that many people across the country are left out. One person put it best, saying, “I’m confident in our election process. I’m also confident that a lot of people don’t engage in the election process because of the way it’s set up.” It’s clear that this election is unlike any we’ve ever seen. Still, people are holding out hope. Hope that every election after this will somehow be better.


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