Once upon a time I lived in Swansea, the old Welsh mining town and harbor where Dylan Thomas grew up. It was about Swansea that Thomas quipped: "This town has more layers than an onion and everyone of them can move you to tears."
I thought of Thomas' comment because I just returned from voting where I had a Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington-Jimmy-Stewart moment.
I returned strangely moved. Maybe it was the sheer dim, shabby, thread-bareness of it all. Maybe it was the dusty church hall, the battered tables, or the elderly volunteers with their lists and stickers. Or the cheap red paper signs reminding potential last minute campaigners (there were none) that they must stand 100 yards from the door to the polling place.
I think that what finally brought tears to my eyes was the earnest little woman who carefully stood where she could not see how I had voted and yet where she could direct me to the woman who would process my ballot and who also carefully did not look at what I had or had not marked on the simple cardboard sheet I was turning in.
For all they knew, I was voting against their candidates. For all they knew, I was delivering a blow to their most cherished civic ideals. And yet they devoted themselves to ensuring that I exercised my right to do so in complete freedom and anonymity. In thousands of precincts around America - in blue, red, and purple states - tens of thousands of other volunteers were enabling millions of my fellow citizens to do the same today.
All the frantic noise, the vast sums of money, the sturm and drang of the election had come down to this quiet, sober moment. Presided over by a humble, self-forgetful army of civic servants whose names most of us will never know.
I just had to say “thank-you for your service" to the woman who took my ballot. If it wouldn’t have disturbed the hush of the moment, I would have tried to thank all the volunteers present. We owe them. We owe all who ensure that year after year, our experience of voting is dim and threadbare and ordinary instead of violent or marred by corruption.
In the context of human history, that qualifies as a major achievement. God bless all who make it possible.