An American citizen could not be a good
citizen who did not have a hope in his heart.” – President Benjamin Harrison

Feeling dispirited about the state of our representative democracy? There’s reason to look on the bright side and keep some hope in your heart: In spite of contending with a national pandemic during 2020’s presidential elections, the Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) documented an astonishing 132,556 polling places and 775,101 poll workers.

Conducting fair and free elections in a country of over 300 million people is an extraordinary undertaking even in the best of times, and it truly takes a collective and coordinated effort to accomplish it. After all, there are an estimated 519,682 elected officials across all 50 states, including federal, state, and local government. While these officials may not have the same national profile or influence as a president, their choices while in office impact everything from tax rates to road improvement to education and public services. They can help elevate a community or inadvertently stymie its development.

So, when it comes to electing our public officials—from president of the United States to local school board members—it’s of vital importance for people to take their voting seriously. It’s why organizations like The Indiana Citizen are important, as they seek to inform and engage public participation in our American system of self-government.

While much of this burden of action ultimately falls on the individual citizens to meet their civic obligations, we recognize there is an opportunity for all of us to do more. For the man who would become the 23rd president, this entailed a lifetime of proactive service within his adopted home state in Indiana as a prominent citizen, leader in times of crisis, an elder in his church, and Sunday school teacher. Throughout his career, Benjamin Harrison was politically active and campaigned for candidates locally, regionally, and nationally. His military service as a volunteer soldier for the Union cause in the Civil War and elected service as Indiana Supreme Court reporter and U.S. senator helped prepare him uniquely for higher office, and earned the respect and admiration of his fellow citizens.

In the hopeful spirit of America’s Hoosier president, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site is committed to helping inspire everyone to do their civic duty. It is one of the reasons why in recent years we’ve generated national attention for serving as a voting center, and why we’ve called upon our museum peers locally and nationally to do the same (see the Smithsonian Magazine’s featured piece, “Why Museums Should be Proud Polling Sites”). In addition to these efforts, we continue to partner with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to serve as a naturalization site for immigrants to become citizens, and have developed an array of innovative civic engagement youth programs like Future Presidents of America and Project POTUS.

Ultimately, it’s about applied history and applied civics, understanding the connections that bind us into a cohesive society. It reminds us that history is not an abstraction, and civics are better modeled than simply taught. Together we can encourage these behaviors through our own actions, both public and private, helping students to lead, voters to vote, juries to serve, and public servants to remain accountable to the public.

With Election Day almost here, we encourage you to join us in your own way and share the “hope in your heart.” We owe it to each other as good citizens – of this state – and of the United States!

 Charles Hyde is the president and CEO of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site (pictured above) located in Indianapolis.

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