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Earlier today, Keith and I traversed the mountain switchbacks on route 151 south in order to vote at our designated polling location, the Roseland Rescue Squad building next to the local post office. Folks lingered in the parking lot, warmly greeting and chatting with one another. Having just moved here fulltime, we didn’t know a soul.

Waiting in the short check-in line inside the building, Keith picked up a flyer for the $8/plate Veterans Day spaghetti dinner, the all-volunteer rescue squad’s fundraiser that we plan to attend. Dave (reading his nametag) checked me in, welcomed me, an obvious newcomer, and said that his family had lived in the area for 200 years. At the time, I wondered what impact long historical connections and intimate local friendships might have on voting preferences.

In the Wall Street Journal’s August 13th “Noteable and Quoteable”, Professor Janice Fiamengo wrote about public voting in an academic setting and a colleague who always looked around at others before raising his hand in agreement. According to Ms. Fiamengo, she and her colleagues made their decisions “…to form or consolidate alliances, to prove our ideological bona fides, to earn credit to be redeemed in a later decision we hoped to influence – but rarely to express our rational and considered preference.” Often people wanted to be in what C.S. Lewis called “The Inner Ring”, to be with the winners and gain approval from members of the in-crowd.

Granted, secret balloting guards against peer pressure and counters some of our need for approval. But it has been well documented that constant national media coverage can sway later voters who might wish to say honestly that they voted for the winner. Regarding the media, how much do political ads and so-called debates (more like extended political ads) influence our decisions? Would a fact-check button help us think? Or are we doomed to nod our heads in agreement with what candidates believe we want to hear, regardless of the truth?

And so I wondered, compared to me or anyone else, were my deep-rooted neighbors more or less swayed by an “in-crowd” mentality, either local or national? Even if I knew my community well, that’s hard to say, maybe impossible. But I know how I voted today, true to form for the pass forty years, casting a ballot not so much for a candidate but against the others.

Some day I would like to raise my hand in clear conscience for a candidate, but perhaps declaring my preference is the best that a deep-rooted imperfect human with deep-rooted imperfect institutions can do.

How do you decide how to vote?

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