Whenever Election Day rolls around, like lots of folks, senior staff at MoT reflect on previous elections. Their memories eventually rest on a time–a time before there even was an MoT!–that they lived in Delaware and enjoyed its superior elections process. This will come as a surprise to many, since the state of Small Wonders rarely attracts much attention unless it catches spillover news from New Jersey or Philadelphia, is mentioned as the destination of Amtrak-lovin’ Joe Biden, or is featured on the Discovery channel’s study of Punkin’ Chunkin’. Indeed, it’s easy to overlook a small place that is for most people little more than a rest stop on I-95 between DC and NY; a region that is sort of north and sort of south all at once, a place that is on the eastern coast of the country but doesn’t really feel “East Coast,” a state whose official bird is a crabby blue chicken and whose official plant is Scrapple. Even after living there for a few years, a person may wonder . . . well, a person wonders about Delaware.
But not on Election Day. On this day Delaware shines like a little diamond with policies and practices that make even the most disillusioned voter stand a little taller and walk with a little more pride when they take part in the process. First, at the polling place, individual voters are announced as they step into the booth. It’s a bizarre surprise the first time it happens to a person–but a cool thing, an American thing, to adapt a practice dreamt up for announcing lords and ladies at Ye Olde Timey society balls to every chicken farmer, DuPont chemical engineer and MBNA junior accounts manager who goes to cast a ballot. It’s a practice that dignifies even the lowliest polling place, and a vastly superior experience than having your code number passed to you by an emphysemic blue-haired retiree as they cough into their other hand and nod in the direction of the machine you’re supposed to go use, which is what happens at MoT‘s local nicotine-stained VFW. (A sad event in the Land o’Lincoln, to be sure.)
The follow-up to Election Day is even better. Two days after the election, Delaware celebrates Return Day (and have been since the eighteenth century) with a celebration in Georgetown, the town where voters used to all go to cast their votes. Former candidates (successful and not) take part in a carriage parade, and then leading members of the two parties bury the hatchet–literally. They get a hatchet and stick it in sand and, for at least a short time, the dust is allowed to settle and people put party pettiness aside to share a plate of Scrapple. In its animated use of civic space with activities that instill a truly civil character into the electoral process, Delaware’s elections exemplify traditions that are worth spreading to other states (maybe minus the Scrapple).