More than 5,000 Fairfax County voters exercised their privilege to cast ballots at the Mason District Governmental Center during the 16 days of in-person absentee voting that concluded on Saturday.
That day alone, 799 votes were cast – a record for this center. Parking places were hard to come by, waiting time averaged two-plus hours many days, and a few voters demonstrated their right of free speech to make spiteful remarks to the election officials and volunteers. For the most part, however, it was exciting to see so many people, young and old, empowered by this election.
One evening, a young couple came to vote with their two little boys in tow. It was the first election for both Mom and Dad, but their young sons were more interested in coloring books and toys to pass the time. Election judges usually make a fuss over first-time voters; I hope that happened this time! Another voter contacted my office about curbside voting. A neighbor was quite ill and had taken a turn for the worse, but he wanted to be sure his vote would count. A friend got in line for a number (a numbering system was used at the Mason Governmental Center so everyone got their turn fairly) while the fragile gentleman waited in the car with his wife. When his number was called, the election judge went out to his car so he could cast his vote. The neighbor later reported to me that the system worked fine, a relief for the voter, I am sure.
As exciting as campaigning can be, it’s governance that’s hard. Campaigns are fast-paced, sometimes entertaining, and often personality-based. Governance is where the hard decisions are made, where leadership is tested, and where partisan politics should have little or nothing to do with decision-making. When leaders make decisions only after they have done the finger test to see which way the wind is blowing for the next election, they are not exercising leadership, only a rubber stamp.
Oregon Senator Wayne Morse (1900-1974), who was elected to the United States Senate twice as a Republican (in 1944 and 1950) and then twice as a Democrat (in 1956 and 1962), was known for his reasoned and independent approach to leadership. He said “I will exercise an independence of judgment based on the evidence of each issue. I will weigh the views of my constituents and party, but cast my vote free of political pressure and unmoved by threats of loss of political support.” He made many tough votes in the Senate, and was one of only two Senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 (Ernest Gruening of Alaska was the other “nay”). Senator Morse was defeated in the 1968 election, a prediction he made to his staff in a letter from a trip home to Oregon in 1967 following the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the Vietnam War.
Faced with difficult decisions that tested his leadership and resolve, Senator Morse was able to distinguish between campaigning and governance, without resorting to partisan politics, although he could be as partisan as anyone I ever knew. That’s a legacy I appreciate, and treasure.