A light has been turned on. For some, it’s a bulb. For others, it’s bright blue emergency flashers.
Either way, voter excitement for Tuesday’s midterm elections has approached that of a presidential election year.
It’s apparent in the political rallies, the lines at early-voting polling places, in letters to the editor, and in social and traditional media: Like many around the country, Fort Worth voters are more tuned in to a non-presidential election than we’ve ever seen.
It’s evident in the numbers: The 568,926 votes cast on the first day of early voting (Oct. 22) in the state’s 15 most populous counties more than doubled the 240,653 votes from the first-day turnout in the 2014 midterms — and even nipped at the heels of the first-day total of 576,416 in the 2016 presidential election.
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And after a flurry of last-minute voter registrations, and Tarrant County election officials’ hurried sending out of some 3,000 mail-in ballots just as early voting started, some area voters were worried their mail-in ballots wouldn’t arrive in time for their votes to count. As long as your ballot is postmarked by Nov. 6, you’re in — but the angst is nonetheless refreshing: You’re banging down the door in order to vote.
There’s little question what’s going on. Voters are being presented with starkly different visions for our country, and unusually tight races in many cases. Rising polarization of the political parties and personalities also is driving interest and passion.
The real question is, is this the new normal? Will Tuesday set a new benchmark for voter participation?
Is civic engagement here to stay?
Let’s hope so. But for that to happen, participation needs to be fueled not only by passing passions, but by an enduring sense of civic duty — not self-interest — as well as a realization that a self-governed nation is only as robust as its citizens’ involvement.
The nation is heavily dependent on voters’ familiarity with the issues and candidates, and the citizenry’s knowledge of how our unique system of governance works.
Ours is an exceptional system not because of our DNA — we’re no biologically better than anyone else — but because of the wisdom of our Constitution and other founding documents that recognize and protect our most fundamental human rights. This is why so many come here or yearn to. It’s not because of our cable channels or pizza delivery.
This light that is suddenly burning brighter must be an eternal flame that we keep lit. We owe it to our forebears, ourselves and those to come.
John F. Kennedy encouraged us to ask what we can do for our country. Informed voting is a great start -- and we certainly urge you not to sit this one out. But it’s only a start. Keep this light on, long after Tuesday. Keep up on the news, bone up on the candidates and issues, volunteer for a candidate you believe in — or run for office yourself.
This election can be a great awakening, if we let it — and if we’re truly committed to our job, which is helping run the greatest nation in the world.
It can’t stay the greatest unless there’s a renaissance of civics.
With any luck, we’re seeing the start of it.