The sun is shining, and it is 75 degrees on Nov. 8. I am sitting at my computer after taking a walk with a friend (masked, of course) along the trails of Chimney Bluffs State Park. The warm weather, turquoise of the shallows, gold and rust colored leaves, white mute swans in the distance, and sharp cliffs piercing the stunning cloudless blue sky were a welcome departure from the news and events many of us have been following. Yesterday the media outlets called the presidential race. Last night President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris spoke.
Those who know me know I have strong positions on political issues. As Monroe County Bar Association president, I try to avoid using that platform to discuss those positions. But there is still a lot to discuss after the past week, isn’t there? In watching the elections process for the last month, I can only shake my head in wonder. We did it. In a pandemic. In creative and amazing ways. Six feet apart, masked, hand sanitizer at the ready.
Many of us were concerned about whether the pandemic would depress the vote. And yet there was remarkable and possibly record turnout. While reports spread about the potential for disruption of the mail that would impact the election, a court ordered sweeps of USPS stations and the sweeps helped to locate ballots and forward them to their respective states and Boards of Elections. Though some did not get there in time, many did. Though many feared violence at the polls, it never materialized. While many feared interferences in the functioning of machines and tabulation of votes through hacking, that too did not materialize. On TV we saw people waiting on lines for 10 hours, but ultimately, they voted. We did not hear stories of machines causing votes to flip.
I am not saying there were not problems — too few polling places or places to return ballots, too many obstacles to registration, and other difficulties that often have a hugely disparate impact on communities of color. Our country — all of us, and I would suggest lawyers more than others given our unique skill set and commitment to the rule of law — must work to ensure that poor people and rich; Black, brown and white people all have the same access to voting without delay. We know that some who sought to vote were deprived of that right.
But despite our system’s imperfections, it largely worked. With record turnout, America placed its faith in elections. And afterwards, the concerns echoed on talk shows about how the party that did not prevail might react have slowly evaporated.
We watched on TV as everyday citizens became election heroes — counting ballots round the clock, working with those of the opposite party, sometimes as crowds protested and yelled outside. And all of this has left me reflective.
As attorneys, we cherish the rule of law. For some of us, our careers focus on strengthening, supporting and ensuring others’ adherence to it. This year’s feared threats to our elections were a threat to our institutions, our enfranchisement, the character of this country, and the rule of law. But it is not just attorneys who value the rule of law. People across this country from both parties who made sure they registered, cast their ballots, and when necessary tried to cure their ballots, demonstrated their commitment to the fundamental structures and values of this country. This powerful commitment to our democracy by Americans across this country emphasized our belief in our institutions, our democracy and the rule of law.
So, as we move forward, it seems that this election can provide some reassurance that despite our deep divisions, we can come together. And that is no small feat.
These elections have left me awed and overwhelmed. I hope that in our community and across this country we can find other ways of joining together to express our choices in ways that continue to honor our system, and reflect a recognition that we all share the commitment to our institutions and democracy.
And of course — no matter your party, I hope we can all recognize the historic significance and powerful statement this country made when we elected a Black and Indian woman to the vice presidency. No matter your party, I hope you join me in the joy that the shattering of that glass ceiling brings.
Jill Paperno is president of the Monroe County Bar Association. She is First Assistant Public Defender at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office.