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It has been a long time since turnout in an American election was as good as it was on Tuesday. Pre-election estimates of expected turnout have topped 130 million ballots and 65 percent of eligible voters, the highest proportion since 1908.

Much has been made of the “apathetic” American citizen and, indeed, you may wonder about the other 35 percent of people who still did not vote this year, despite the unprecedented excitement. It is true that even this “high” turnout is still low by Western standards, since turnouts in Western Europe routinely exceed 80 percent.

But all of you who tried to vote should give yourselves a pat on the back. Few European voters must vote in the face of such unfavorable physical conditions, so American voters deserve much more credit than the media often gives them.

It is a good sign for any democracy when large numbers of voters are enthusiastic enough to be willing to endure several hours exposed to the elements without food or restrooms just to get their ballots in, for it seems that the number would have been even higher had there been enough polling places to handle a high turnout efficiently.

By now, we know the results, and Barack Obama and his allies have their many excited supporters to thank. What we do not know is whether or not those supporters will stick around after the victory party is over and the newly elected officials take their offices.

Will all those men and women who gave six hours to their chosen presidential candidate spend even one minute to tell their congressperson how to vote on an important bill six months from now?

Will those faithful worshipers who knelt in rapture before the blessed Obama continue to listen when the specter of McCain has faded and the euphoria wears off?

What will be our guidance to our newly elected representatives when they face the choice of bankrupting their country or asking their constituents for sacrifices?

As the president-elect on a promise of change, Obama will now face the same time-honored and powerful obstacle that has stymied so many other reformers. The Constitution, to which he must swear allegiance as a condition of taking office, is a purpose-built preserver of the status quo.

Our new president will not be permitted to simply order all the changes he would like, since nothing would then prevent the president from making changes in his own interest but not his country’s. The president can only ask Congress to approve a law.

That law will then be returned 535 whacks later, often in tatters with many pieces torn out or added haphazardly to ensure various legislators’ support, for the president to sign. If the president finds the result too distant from his original request, he must ask his legislative supporters to prolong the effort and try for some improvement. Another round of trading off follows as the president’s allies decide which changes are less important to keep.

All the while, we voters look on, increasingly doubting the prophecy of change that we felt so sure of months earlier in the voting booth.

But if those faithful worshipers stay faithful, and our citizens stay involved — not just for one Election Day, but also for all the days afterward — the change will come. In a few years, if we’re persistent enough.

Kenneth took only a few minutes to vote by mail, but did spend a few hours going over the propositions and the candidate statements. Reach him at

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