I am not a political junkie. I don’t thrive on excitement over elections. I am not “in the know” about every nuance of our local, regional, or national government. I avoid political discussions or getting into arguments about candidates and partisanship. As a matter of fact, I am an independent, unaffiliated voter.
This doesn’t mean I don’t care. And I do completely believe that voting is not only our right, but our duty and an honor. Perhaps because I am not deeply involved or particularly politically active, I find the whole voting process rather fascinating. There is comfort and pride in this oh-so-American tradition.
First, of course, are the weeks or months of hearing from, and about, the candidates. The campaigns are truly my least favorite part. If they could just stick to a handful of debates, and basic statements of their positions, I’d be happy. But no. The ads flood our TVs and radios, the mud-slinging and slander pre-empts any real information, and the phone rings off the hook with automated calls from people we’ve never heard of. This morning I did a happy dance, not because it was time to cast our ballots, but because we’ll finally get a break from the noise.
Voting is one of the only American activities that the majority of the population can participate in, where everyone is on the same level playing field. As we real people go to our voting places, we are all equal, and the actions we take while there all carry the same weight. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned CEO of a Corporation with years of voting experience, or a young adult scraping by on minimum wage, still new to the voting process – we all stand in the same lines and take our turns with the exact same ballot forms.
Tonight, as always, my husband and I had our “voting date.” Each election, we wait until we are both home from work, go to the polling place together, check in, vote, then head home. Each time, the experience is the same. Our polling place is the Middle School, which happens to be my son’s current school. We followed the line of cars and pulled into a parking spot just vacated by someone else. We headed in the same door that we just weeks ago had entered for the school Open House. We walked into the gym – but this time we weren’t there to cheer on a team or attend a school presentation or a book fair.
We had the same discussion as every time, because we apparently have short term memories and can never remember what Precinct we are in. He says 4, I say 3, we go to the first table and find out hubby was right. So we get in line with the rest of the 4’s. The room is full of other town residents and inevitably we see a neighbor or parents of school friends and stop to chat. Some parents have brought their children, other folks are clearly on their way home from work. I remember as a young girl, going to a polling place with my mother, and being fascinated by the mystery of it all. I watch a couple of younger folks and wonder if this is their first time voting, and want to say “yay you!”
The check-in tables are staffed by seniors, who are volunteering their time to ask for your street and your name, make a big red check-mark next to you on the list, hand you a ballot and remind you to read and complete both sides. My co-worker today said that when she voted this morning, there were several people reminding all voters to complete both sides of the ballot. It made us wonder, has there been a rash of people submitting incomplete sheets? Why would you not think to look at both sides?
Once we have ballots in hand, we wait for our turn to go to little mini-tables with three-sided pop-up walls on them, and a black pen on a string. I miss the old days when we used to go into a booth, pull the lever for an old curtain to close us in to our private chamber, and flip switches on the wall in front of us. Somehow the magic is lost by leaning on a little desk and filling in circles.
As a dutiful good girl, I review and consider the candidates and issues on the ballot before venturing out to vote. But I still re-read the information, because I’m worried I’ll get confused and indicate a no when I meant yes, and vice versa – so hubby always finishes before me and waits and people watches until I’m done.
The last step of course is to head over to the ballot-eating machine, with a friendly person leaning against it to make sure we actually put the sheet in the right way, and feed in our papers. We then stop at the check out table with a senior couple who are practically identical to those we saw at the start of the line, sitting with identical town list and red pens. I wonder if they ever really do compare the check-in and check-out papers at the end of the night. Is there ever anyone who got missed at check out? Do they scour the now-empty gymnasium to see if anyone is hiding behind the bleachers, afraid to give up their ballot?
Hubby and I walk out hand-in-hand to head home, talking about any of the friends we saw along the way. We wait until we are safely in the car to discuss our decisions and votes.
Invariably, even though I thought I did my homework, there are some candidates on the ballot that I have never heard of – and I have to make my best educated guess, or hope for some mystical vibe to come to me simply by virtue of someone’s name. Tonight there were apparently three candidates for Treasurer. At risk of offending them, I had no idea who any of them were. Since I am not married to one party or the other, I had no strong feelings based on their affiliations. When hubby and I got into the car, I came clean and made a confession. I told him I voted for the guy with the last name of Heffernan, because the name reminded me of the character Doug Heffernan on King of Queens, a show and character I loved. My husband looked at me and started laughing, and said “me too!” Then he said “hey, I didn’t get a sticker.”
As we go to bed tonight, we’ll tune in to see the early results on the news, all of which will be confirmed at least 50 times on the morning broadcast. We will either be pleased or concerned by who is officially elected, and by the final decisions made on the issues presented. In the end, all we can do is hope for the best, that the decisions that were made are good ones and that the newly elected officials really will act with all of our best interests at heart. And most of all, we can take pride in having been part of it. Sure, it is hard to believe that one little black filled-in circle can make any kind of difference. But looking around at all of the real people in that gym tonight, each taking that paper and black pen in hand, and knowing that the exact same thing at the same time was happening all across the country… well, that is pretty powerful.
Besides, now that we’ve done our duties….we will be rewarded by getting a break from the campaigning…. aaahhhh. In my view, that makes it all worth it.