Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Reflection

Some people I know (or have known) can recollect with amazing clarity every ballot cast in their voting histories. I am not one of those people. Granted, some of them are decades younger than I am, with briefer, fresher voting legacies than my own, and that might help. Others are much older and their ability to remember such things makes me feel like an amnesia patient.

Legal voting age (and at the time, drinking age) greeted me right before starting freshman year of college, but it was a couple years for the next presidential election. My first and perhaps only “political activism” (the term is used loosely here) took place in college when my wardrobe was rich in flannel shirts and Wrangler jeans. Basically, I dressed a lot like the guys I had crushes on, and that is the type of outfit worn to at least one anti-nuclear themed keg party held in the woods. Our beer drinking was punctuated by the occasional fist-pumping chants of “Hell no, we won’t glow!” to remind us why we were there as we shivered in the dark. That is the type of stuff I remember. If you can tell me what I was wearing, I can probably tell you what we were doing.

I have no idea how we thought a cluster of a dozen college kids drinking in the woods in the dark would change anything related to the debate over nuclear power, but I’m sure it made sense at the time.

As for the candidates in my first national election? Well, I’d be one fresh corpse if my next breath depended upon recalling which name I marked in that first major election (or many of those to follow).

My grandmother, who could relate with amazing detail stories from her youth during the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression, could list every candidate she ever voted for and the reasons why. On the approach to Election Day, she would proudly declare that she was officially registered as an Independent voter and never voted a straight party ticket. She believed it was bad for one political group to hold all the power, and balanced her choices amongst affiliations, focusing on individuals in whom she felt she could place her trust.

I share my grandmother’s philosophy about parties and candidates, but, unlike she could, I can’t reel off my choices in most past elections. This is not especially alarming to me, as many days I can’t recall what I ate for breakfast. Perhaps if I was involved and passionate about politics (or had a voting outfit designated for the occasion) it all might have a more permanent impression.

The political impression I do hold is that it’s a personal responsibility as a U.S. citizen to vote. I’m hugely offended by people who piss and moan about elected officials and/or candidates campaigning for office, and who haven’t voted in the past and have no intention to vote at present. One friend, in advance of the contentious 2000 Presidential Election, complained about candidates and issues the entire election season, then confessed that at the age of 30, had never registered and voted. Ever. Seriously? That’s the same year I deliberately scheduled an international trip and wedding plans for after Election Day to ensure nothing hindered my ability to vote.

While not the most politically involved citizen (I don’t campaign for candidates or post political displays of affection in my yard or on my vehicle), I take voting seriously. Before heading to the voting machine, I almost always review a sample ballot for my own comfort level – a lesson learned after at least one head-splitting election featuring complicated referendum questions that read like the deliberately confusing word problems on a standardized test. As tough as some choices may seem, I can’t even imagine living in a place where people can’t help shape their society with a vote.

My bottom line (for what it's worth) – please vote. It doesn’t matter to me for whom you cast your ballot, just be part of the process. And if you choose to not vote, please keep your mouth shut for the next four years.

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