Democracy at Work

Dear Ryan and Evan,

I’m so glad you are babies, oblivious to the workings of the world around you. You only care about food, warmth, and shelter at this point in your lives – and rightly so.

But one day in the not-so-distant future, people will share all kinds of stories about the tumultuous year of 2020. They will tell you about the many “firsts” they experienced like the wearing of masks; the need to work from home; the inability to travel internationally; the closing of businesses; the rescheduling or cancellation of conferences, theatre performances, concerts, and sporting events; the zooming of religious services and lifecycle events; etc., etc., etc. In all likelihood, however, the most dramatic tales will be told of the presidential elections of the year. 

On this last note, I’d like to share some lessons learned.


Election Day was Tuesday. Today is Friday and a winner has not yet been declared officially. 

The process that’s unfolded over the past four days to determine the election’s results has felt like a 24/7 roller-coaster ride. I’ve been glued to the TV, put up with commercial breaks, and weathered sleep deprivation. I am not as emotionally involved as I am fascinated by all the goings on. I have appreciated this opportunity to listen, read, and think about our democracy. 

Whatever the outcome, I believe the American people – and maybe a few others around the world – encountered a few “Aha!” moments from which to learn during this election season. 

  • Rules of Engagement. Rules – the criteria by which an election operates – must be clear, understood, and followed. Though different states have slightly different guidelines, it’s everyone’s responsibility to understand how the process works within his/her/their home state. It’s also helpful to understand differences between the states. 
  • Deadlines. Once communicated as part of the Rules of Engagement, deadlines signify the end to a particular event. Whether it’s the closing of the polls at 7:00pm or receiving and counting legal mail-in ballots by 5:00pm on Friday, deadlines must be honored and enforced. 
  • Accessibility. Enabling voters to cast votes through mail-in ballots, in-person early voting, and through “day of” in-person voting ensures accessibility by all to the election process.
  • The Audience. Given the social distancing brought on by the pandemic and concerns about the current increases in COVID cases, voters were concerned about in-person voting. Having the choice and flexibility to vote early during off-peak hours or via mail, enabled greater numbers of people to vote with confidence and comfort. 
  • Tactics. Leaders understand the concept of strategy. They also know that launching a strategy is dependent upon the implementation of key tactics. The decision by one candidate to encourage voters to vote in person versus the other candidate’s campaign for mail-in resulted in dramatically different results. 
  • Each Vote Counts. Lest Americans thought their votes didn’t matter in the past, this year’s election proves that each vote matters. Even more importantly, each vote submitted legally is entitled to be counted. No matter how long the process takes!
  • Mistakes Happen. We are human. Sometimes errors are made in counting. Sometimes rules are flawed, biased, or inconsistently enforced. But just because mistakes happen, doesn’t mean fraud is afoot. All issues should be reviewed thoroughly, and legally if need be, and corrected as necessary. 
  • Tone and Tenor. The manner in which people speak and conduct themselves, especially during stressful times, leaves lasting impressions. Words or tweets cannot be taken back once they’re aired in public. Two people can voice the same opinions, but if one voices them softly and calmly, the reaction will be far more favorable than if one rants and rails. Many images and speeches from this week will linger.
  • Unsung Heroes. There were thousands of people who “showed up” this week – even at their own potential risk – to assist with the elections. Things couldn’t happen without them. There were volunteers at polls, counters of ballots, news anchors, correspondents, etc. Some of them we know, most we don’t. They all should be commended for their patience and commitment.
  • Focus on the Big Picture. This week we witnessed democracy at work. Even if former Vice President Biden wins the presidency, I believe the balance of powers between the judicial, legislative, and executive will remain intact. I trust the president and his team have learned valuable lessons this week that will enable them to govern with all of the American people in mind. 

As Shabbat rolls in, the final election results won’t be forthcoming until the end of the weekend. And while the lessons above are important, I’m sure there will be many more before we finally say goodbye to 2020. 

For now, it’s a good time to rest and reflect some more so we can make 2021 a better year.

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