Election Day and the Secrets of Americans

Politics may have devolved over the years, but the spectacle of Election Day remains.

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Voters in Precinct 39 fill out their ballots while voting on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, at the First Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines, Iowa.
Voters in Precinct 39 fill out their ballots while voting on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, at the First Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines, Iowa.

I've covered every presidential campaign since 1980, and I've always found Election Day to be a very special and inspirational moment in the life of our country.

The best description of this day was written by Theodore H. White in his iconic book, "The Making of the President, 1960." It's worth repeating.

[JOIN US: U.S. News Live Blogging Election Day]

White described Election Day and the act of voting in reverential terms. "All of this is invisible," he wrote, "for it is the essence of the act that as it happens, it is a mystery in which millions of people fit one fragment of the total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole.

"What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world — the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal — all committed into the hands of one man."

White added: "Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make this particular manner of transfer of power work effectively; no people has succeeded at it better or over a longer period of time than the Americans."

[Ken Walsh: The Moment of Truth]

Campaigns have changed in the half-century since White wrote his tribute to American democracy. Politics has gotten more harsh, negative, and trivial. The candidates too often talk in sound bites and descend into distortions and falsehoods. The 24-hour news cycle and the proliferation of opinion polls has helped to create a political environment that is often overly sensational and insufficiently substantive or even informative. And there are glitches, sometimes major ones, in counting votes and making sure everyone has access to the ballot.

But the miracle of Election Day endures, as a diverse and rambunctious nation determines its future every four years.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of five books, most recently "Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House." He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook or Twitter.