Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Civic Duty

Today is election day in America. If you are eligible to vote and didn’t, please don’t whine or try to engage me in any form of political debate later. As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t express your opinion at the polls on election day, you aren’t entitled to an opinion on political matters after election day.

Yes, voting can be inconvenient. If you work, you might need to squeeze it in before or after or during your workday. Yes, it might be crowded at your voting location (it was when I went), but that’s a good thing! It means your neighbors are participating in the process that people in America and other countries have fought for (and in some cases, died for). Standing in line is trivial. Chat with the people around you and meet your neighbors.

Mom and I went to vote this morning around 8:45. The parking lot at our Ward 1 voting location, the Knights of Columbus Hall, was crowded. The atmosphere was cheerful.

I had a minor hiccup at check in -- I wasn’t listed at the address for my Mom’s house, where I’ve lived at for nearly two years. Even though I registered to vote when I transferred my driver’s license and registered my car in March 2013, and even though I voted one year ago in the city election, and even though I hand-delivered a city census form for our address to the City Clerk’s office, I wasn’t on the check-in list. I was listed as “inactive.” Umm, how much more active could I have been?

I guess that explains why Mom and Butch received candidate mailings and I didn’t. But in the grand scheme of things, it is still trivial. Minor. I had to go to another table and fill out a form and show my license, then return to the check-in line with the yellow and pink copies of a form. It took five extra minutes. Barely an eye blink to express my position on the next few years.

Meanwhile, Mom had finished voting, visited the check-out table and was standing in the line to place her ballot forms in a big machine. Unfortunately, the machine kept rejecting the forms of a voter ahead of her, which held up the line. One lady was nervously checking her watch, and announced she needed to get to work.

I got my forms and visited the booth to color in my little ovals. Luckily, there was an empty booth. These are not private little stations, they accommodate two people, each facing a corner of the space. But they look mighty cozy for two people, and I was hoping nobody came to the tiny counter in the other side of ‘my’ booth, triggering claustrophobia.

I felt prepared to vote, having read the Massachusetts Information for Voters booklet that arrived at our house several weeks ago. Unfortunately, my preparations still left me unprepared. The booklet contained four questions on the ballot, but it turned out there were actually six. There were offices listed on the ballot I hadn’t heard of, so I was still flying blind in a couple areas.
As I was filling in the ovals on my ballot by hand with the provided black Flair pen, the voter on the other side of the flimsy booth wall was shaking the booth like a damned earthquake, making it challenging to stay in the lines, and making me worry the machine wouldn’t read my ballot if the circles were all crazy. Yes, voting can be exciting, but calm the heck down and stop shaking the entire booth!

When I finished dealing with the shaking booth and coloring ovals and puzzling over positions I didn’t know were up for grabs with candidates I never heard of, I stood in the line to feed my forms into the machine, until someone pointed out I needed to go to the checkout table first. I hadn’t been on the check-in list, but fortunately I WAS on the check-out list. Umm,  OK.

But it’s done. Now I wait for the coverage tonight to see the results. And you know what? Compared to the countries where people have no say in their government, my tiny issues mean nothing. I didn’t have to fight for the right to vote, others before me already paved the way for me. The least I can do is show up and be part of the process. The same goes for you.

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