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May 2, 2018

A Ray of Hope

My faith in America’s culture of democracy—which has taken a beating—received a big boost recently in the most local of local elections.

As one of the eligible voters in the U.S. who bothered to vote in the 2016 presidential election, not knowing with 100 percent certainty who won, whether a foreign government interfered and how that government might have interfered has really bothered me for almost two years now. My thoughts go to the Bush versus Gore fiasco, to gerrymandering, to voter suppression, fake news, Russian troll farms and the fact that 14 states still cannot guarantee accurate election results.

One of the few things most Americans can agree on is that voting in this country is broken. Of late, the murkiness of weaponized and purposefully polarized social media companies has deepened that vortex to the point that said social media companies are now welcoming at least some form of regulation going forward. When private companies ask governments to intervene via regulation, you know something is terribly wrong.

My family and I are blessed to live in the town of Lexington, Mass., known as one the first places that Americans fought back against a system they felt was broken and corrupt—it was the place the first shot of the Revolutionary War was fired. In February of this year, my wife, Tina, a dedicated, passionate local volunteer, was convinced by friends to run as a write-in to represent our precinct at the annual Town Meeting. After the polls closed on March 5, we were all surprised to hear that she tied for the final seat with 100 write-in votes versus a very capable candidate on the ballot who also garnered 100 votes. Tina’s opponent, as is his right, asked for a recount—a projected four-hour ordeal that would entail tabulating over 2,000 votes across eight candidates on over 250 ballots. My wife was allowed to send observers from her team to ensure that everything was done fairly and to her satisfaction. While I initially would have rather had hot needles pushed through my eyeballs than sit through the recount, I agreed to be one of my wife’s appointed observers—just one of many reasons we have been married 25 years this year.

When we entered the historic hall reserved for the recount at 5 p.m., we were greeted by town officials with a plan and a purpose. The town clerk addressed the group and started the proceedings with an explanation of the importance and integrity of the voting process. She covered the myriad ways that write-in and voting machine votes would and would not count, but the compass she put forth above all else was “the sanctity of each voter’s intent.” That statement floored me—in a malaise of voting writ large gone bad, I had found truth. To me it was the impossible made possible—another “glorious morning for America” happening in Lexington: Every vote would literally count.

Over the next four hours, every vote was checked and rechecked in an efficient, transparent and professional manner. As the recount wrapped up, most of us could not help but feel that we did not really care who won—we were simply overwhelmed by the meticulous, thoughtful process in which we played a small part. I never would have thought that you could feel democracy, but we did. It felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold night—it was a feeling I wish for everyone who ever has a chance to participate in an election. It was enlightening, reassuring and fair. As an entrepreneur I immediately thought: How could this feeling scale? After ruminating about bipartisan commissions, standardized voting machines and more I was hit by two realities:

  1. There was no money influencing this election’s outcome
  2. It is truly up to us to demand and effect change

We have fair election committees, but they—like most of our systems—have fallen prey to partisanship and disrepair. If we cannot fix the bedrock of our system, the thing that we have fought too many wars for, shed too much blood for, then I worry about the very premise of our country. Hope, though, can be found in other places too. Take my friend Jon Schulder’s efforts. He is building an application called PoliVols that will help efficiently sign up and match volunteers with campaigns for political candidates. His purpose and passion for this mission gives me hope in large part because he is 17 years old. I urge leaders of all ages and at all levels to repair and prioritize voting procedures from top to bottom. Put the voters’ intent and right to be truthfully informed at the center of the effort. If we cannot accomplish the task that Lexington’s town clerk and her team did that night, then we deserve the disingenuous, unrepresentative morass toward which we are headed.

In short, we can and must do better. And by the way, Tina won 102-100, but everyone in that room felt that they had won. I hope every voter can experience the same someday.

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