The caption reads, “Head precinct judge Deloris Reid-Smith reads the voter’s oath to poll workers before opening the polls at the Grove Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina November 4, 2014.”
A few people complain occasionally about the fact that voting is conducted in churches. Separation of church and state is more virtual than material some of the time, and so custom rules on this one. Besides, churches often look more like schools, right down to the basketball backboard above the multipurpose flooring. But I digress.
What really counts is how the election is conducted. If done right, the voting procedures will be impartial, without any hint of coercion or corruption, and accessible to all without great inconvenience or other disruptions. It should be so routine that it appears completely ordinary and even banal. At the same time, however, voting must have the safeguards that are applied to any activity that is essential for the survival of the community. Voting is crucial for many questions of collective material and ethical well-being, and it is an absolute necessity for democracy itself. You might even say that maintaining the integrity of the election a sacred obligation.
Which is why this photograph gets it exactly right. We see both the incredibly ordinary, routine, banal decor of everyday life, and the taking of an oath. A place that can be filled with a dozen different activities in the course of a week, now is being dedicated to a single civic duty. Ordinary people who will go their separate ways at the end of the day, are placing their hands together on a Bible in a common testament of their commitment to a fair election. They pledge only that, but it is enough.
Elections today–especially today–are fodder for cynics, and some may see the photograph as an other example of how voting in the US has become an empty ritual. To go further down that path, one might ask where the Koch brothers served as poll workers. The billions spent in the last year did nothing to enhance the integrity of election day, and it would be easy to conclude that the poll workers’ oath is the last, pathetic example of idealism, or niaveté, in the entire system.
That may be true, but at least they, and the photographer, have shown us what election day is supposed to mean.
Photograph by Chris Keane/Reuters.