IN his seminal book on American politics, "The Making of the President 1960," Theodore H. White describes the result of election day in the United States as "the most awesome transfer of power in the world ... ." Mr. White goes on:
"Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied ... . The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long fall campaign fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait."
Because one of the candidates this year is the incumbent president, unlike 1960, there may not be a "transfer of power." But whether the enormous executive power of the United States government is retained by one candidate today or transferred to another, the stakes for voters are as high as those in the Nixon-Kennedy contest.
And White accurately captured the slightly eerie quiet of election day after the din of the preceding months. Voters waiting in lines generally talk quietly, if at all. The somberness of mood at polling stations seems an apt reflection of the importance, the dignity, and - yes - the majesty of the act the citizens are waiting to perform.
Many of us on election day have a small restlessness in the pit of the stomach. For the candidates and their followers, the reasons are obvious. But even for people with less personal stake in the election tally, there are anticipation, a recognition of the possible need to adjust to new political circumstances, and a hope that the citizenry, in its collective wisdom, will choose prudently.
A day of reflection, quiet deciding, and national aspiration, election day is also an occasion for prayer - prayer not for partisan advantage, but for what the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, called "righteous government."