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The line was long but fast-moving during early voting one day earlier this month at Hixson Community Center. / Photo by Mark Kennedy

Like millions of Americans, I voted early.

One morning earlier this month, I joined the long, serpentine line at Hixson Community Center (formerly Hixson Middle School) and — after about a 45-minute wait — cast my vote for president of the United States.

It felt like a weight lifted, like dropping a heavy backpack on the ground after a 10-mile hike.

Let me say first, I am a fan of standing in socially distanced queues. There is some psychological advantage to long lines that move quickly over short lines that only inch forward. It's why we take interstate highways over back roads, even when the driving times are equal.

I've always noticed that there is a certain reverence in voting lines, sort of like lining up to take communion in church. People are just happy to be there. Voting is a duty, and people seem to respect the act.

A man in front of me talked about how his grandfather used to line up all his (adult) grandkids and instruct them how to vote. He said they all nodded respectfully and then — correctly — went out and voted as they pleased.

Another man, who told me he is a retired school principal, stared wistfully at the old school building we were about to enter, perhaps seeing its red brick walls in a deeper way than those of us who hadn't spent a career breathing chalk dust and drinking faculty lounge coffee.

Eavesdropping on conversations while in line, I noticed that most people weren't talking about their choices for office but about the privilege of voting on a sunny day in middle America.

It reminded me that those of us who are voracious consumers of political news often forget that about 80% of Americans aren't deeply engaged in the partisan wars that consume the fervent 20% — your Facebook feed notwithstanding. I heard more conversation in the voter line about "What's for lunch?" than partisan squabbling about who will be the next president.

An astounding 16% of Tennessee's registered voters participated in the first week of early balloting. The idea of Election Day has morphed into Voting Fortnight — which actually has a nice ring to it.

Meanwhile, the political signs all over the Hixson Community Center property were almost like holiday decorations — silent decorations, thankfully, like politicians with their mouths taped shut.

I was impressed by the professionalism of the election workers. They had set out bottled water for the voters, and they worked politely and efficiently behind Plexiglas to keep the line moving smartly.

The current early-voting system of scanning your driver's license and having a custom ballot instantly printed (pegged to your home address and relevant races) is a marvel.

The actual ballot-marking took only about three minutes. Something about getting older makes it harder to color inside the lines, so it took a few extra seconds for me to ink in my choices. Split ticket, as usual.

Seconds later, I emerged from the school feeling satisfied, also somehow lighter and happier.

After so much election noise, the actual voting process is accomplished in blissful silence, with cellphones put away and the voting area library-quiet.

It's just you, a pen, a piece of paper and the weight of American history.

Big exhale.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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