You can almost hear history’s hinges creak today.
American government floats in limbo. Executive power in the world’s dominant nation teeters on a fulcrum. Control of Congress has become a guess.
In Washington, the entire House of Representatives and half the Senate are in flux. The governorship is changing hands, from Chris Gregoire, but will Rob McKenna or Jay Inslee inherit it? Will Washington legalize gay marriage or marijuana? Whose interests will have the upper hand in Olympia for the next four years?
As of this morning, no one knows. The pollsters are irrelevant. Elaborate campaign strategies have been reduced to frantic efforts to persuade supporters to fill out their ballots.
The process deserves awe. The status quo has been dissolved; under America’s constitutional order, political authority has been handed back to ordinary citizens. Their ballots, marked with felt-tips and ballpoints, are shifting or confirming the leadership of the nation and Washington state.
Behind today’s elections are a handful of clauses in the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it...”
Election day is precisely when America’s national, state and local government derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Our ballots are the consent forms.
Political argument in an election year is often slanderous, misleading and fanatical. We hate the vicious ads, the petty name-calling and mindless partisanship.
But even the nastiest elections beat no elections at all. People who can’t change their regimes with ballots often do so through armed rebellions and revolutions.
The last time Americans settled their political differences with artillery was the Civil War. Our raucus elections have allowed us to transfer power – or confirm legitimacy – for nearly a century and a half now without blood in the streets.
We do it again today. For a few hours, until the polls close, electricians, teachers, receptionists and college students exercise as much political power as anyone in government. The world awaits their verdict.