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A vote for Election Day

Last night was the first election night in about seven years that I didn't spend hunkered in a newsroom into the wee hours, munching pizza and debating when it was safe enough to call a given race.

Earlier this year, I moved from the city desk at the big-city newspaper where I work back to the business section. I'd been running our government and politics coverage for four years, and after watching Jerry Brown thump Meg Whitman in a long, strange race for California governor, I figured there was relatively little I'd learn from "four more years" on the beat.  The big story in government, for the forseeable future, is going to be one of cuts and gloom, whether you're talking about Washington, the state house or your local town council. Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley startup scene, which I'd covered before turning to politics, was once again humming thanks to companies like Facebook and Zynga. It was a good time for a change.

Still, I tell people that there's no more exciting place to be than in a newsroom on election night. And even though yesterday's off-year contest didn't feature a whole lot of action, at least locally, I spend plenty of time talking politics with my cohorts in the newsroom. It's in the blood. Just under 30 percent of the voters in my county bothered to cast ballots yesterday, but there's way too much in my personal and professional history to keep me on the sidelines of an election.

I fell in love with newspapering as a boy in suburban Boston, where my family moved in 1976 at the height of bicentennial fever. I was fascinated by the notion of rag-tag patriots defeating the most potent military on earth largely due to their ability to communicate quickly via lead-type printing presses and riders on horseback. My belief in journalism as a higher calling was cemented in the spring of 1992, when I was laid up sick in Bangkok and watched entranced as the English-language newspapers stubbornly covered the aftermath of a military coup despite threats that had shut down TV coverage of the democracy protests.

I later married a woman from Vietnam, and I remember the surprise of sitting down in an expensive Ho Chi Minh City hotel one day to see that certain stories in the International Herald Tribune had been clumsily redacted with a black marker.  My wife's family asked if I had to pay anyone to get my stories into the newspaper. Then there was the time I was speaking to a journalism class at Havana University; among other questions, the students asked if the government told me what I could write.

Experiences like these keep me keenly aware of the importance -- even the sanctity -- of voting, no matter how easy it is to be jaded by the oft-corrupt nature of politics. Our son was six weeks old on Election Day 2008, and we bundled him up and walked to our local polling place to take part in an election that -- regardless of your feelings about Barack Obama -- undeniably changed history. We took photos of James at the polling place; we wanted to document that he had been there.

Of course, a year from now the electoral stakes will be much, much higher than they were this week. We may be talking about a new president -- or about a comeback for Obama that, at the moment, looks far from assured. Maybe I'll volunteer to work that night. One thing for sure: It won't be for the pizza.