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America’s Choosing Day: Voting to Renew Our Democracy

February 5, 2019

 

I am walking out of 15th street station by Centre Square in Philadelphia, and a woman coming up beside me remarks on her phone, “Oh, my God– it is a gorgeous day. It’s almost like everyone went to sleep, and when we all woke up the city is just prettier.”

 

The wind is not blustery as yesterday. Billy Penn, standing atop his high clocktower, can be seen much more clearly, the sun shining on his bronze statue under a streak-less sky. People seem to be ambling around Dilworth Park, rather than racing to find shelter from a rainy overcast. I wouldn’t think twice about the on occasion, beautiful November afternoon. And talking about the weather is usually so banal. Yet there was something about this Wednesday, the 7th, that made even the weather worth noting. The city had a sparkle.

 

There were few states I was not closely watching as midterm election night coverage came in. Leading up to November 6th, people had been calling these midterms perhaps “the most important election of our lifetime”. This year there would not be a presidential race, but every one of the 435 House seats would be contested; in the Senate, 35 seats were being decided upon. Two years into a White House administration with majorities in both chambers of Congress at stake, I could understand how this election was momentous.

 

One election I was particularly interested in was the Texas Senate race. Ted Cruz, the incumbent Republican senator, was facing reelection against Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke. A charismatic, three-term congressman, O’Rourke’s campaign, based on a vision for unity whilst the country’s political landscape has been saturated by divisiveness, instilled a hope within me that better days are to come. He was seen to be running on a miracle; “Deep Red” Texas hasn’t elected a Democratic senator in 30 years. Except, the race was close. And, as a Representative in the House, O’Rourke had a way of reaching across the aisle to garner support among Independents and Republicans as well; what made his campaign unique, he often asserted, was that it was run by people, not PACs. In spite of my nail-biting while watching the returns from Texas come in, Beto lost. After all the votes were tallied, he won 48.3% of the vote to Cruz’s 50.9%. Some counties were small, and the tallies came close, as in Hudspeth County, right next to El Paso, where he lost by 102 votes. In others, like Collin County around Dallas, the margin was wider, yet he still managed to amass a great turnout, losing by only 21,811 votes to Cruz’s 187,425. O’Rourke, however, won Tarrant County by 4,308 votes. Often called a Republican stronghold and the most conservative large urban county in America, in the 2018 midterms, Tarrant County flipped blue.

 

After each election, don’t we wake up to a brand-new day? Whether we wake up to much prettier cities is subjective. The candidates we hope for will not often win. Yet, as Walt Whitman wrote in Election Day, November 1884, “the heart of it is not in the chosen”. Maybe looking at City Hall while coming out of 15th street station inspired me with more awe knowing that there were 6,782 more 18 year olds registered to vote in Philadelphia between this year’s primary and the general election of 2016. Perhaps knowing that Beto O’Rourke lost that election, but Texas’ early voting this year surpassed the total number of votes for the entire state in 2014, can restore one’s optimism in the democratic process. When I voted for the first time in November, I participated in our democracy in a way I never have before. With the push of the green “VOTE” button, and the noise of the machine that confirmed my selections, I was voting for more than just candidates; issues, yes, but as part of the highest midterm turnout in 50 years, I showed up and voted to keep this process moving forward. Whitman continues, in his poem, it is “not in the chosen– the act itself the main, quadrennial choosing.” It could be that our cities are not prettier. We wake up, instead, to democracy renewed.

 

Erinda Sheno is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. She is American-Albanian, and a native Philadelphian.

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