On Being a Voter
I feel as passionately as anyone, and possibly more so than many, about the upcoming elections. But I promised myself that on the occasion of my very first post as a BlogHer Contributing Editor in the Election 08 category, I would not mention the names of any of the presidential or vice presidential candidates.
Why? Because candidates come and go - but most of us still have our right to vote that we can exercise, every single time an election of any type comes around. (I know that not everyone who contributes to this community may still have that right and I would love to hear from them in particular - but only if they want to express their thoughts about it.)
For as long as I can remember, I've loved the idea of voting, if not the people for which I could vote. I've always bought, lock, stock and barrel, that my vote matters and counts.
The first vote I remember casting was for George McGovern in 1972 when I was in fifth grade. I was the only one in my class who voted for the eventual Democratic loser (to Richard Nixon, two years before Nixon would resign as a result of the Watergate scandal, namesake for all future -gates to be).
In 1980, I voted as a freshman in college, in D.C. and the hostages were still being held in Iran.
In 1984, I was living in Israel and somehow recived two absentee ballots. I sent back just one - promise. (An interesting parallel occured for me that year, as I got to witness the formation of that country's coalition government with the post of prime minister being shared by Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir - more than 14 parties shared control of the government! I spent the night at a hotel in Jerusalem with many other Americans watching the returns with an enormous ballot sheet on which we kept crossing out numbers of parliament seats as the votes came in; Israel has direct representation, no electoral college and all Israeli Arabs are included in the voting.)
In 1988, I'd just moved to Ohio and was shocked that people had to vote for judges - in Connecticut, it's all by appointment (or at least it was). I thought the judicial elections were the most antithetical to justice idea ever and I'm still pretty uncomfortable with it, though I'm not sure the appointment system is any better. I don't recall for sure, but I actually think I may have voted absentee for CT that year.
By 1992, I was married, carrying a lot of debt, working and thinking about buying a house and starting a family. The legal profession was a terrible place to find a job, but I had one. And I voted in Ohio for the first time.
In 1996, 2000 and 2004, I voted in Ohio also, and I remember in 2000 crying, with great tension in my heart and chest, at the idea of a Bush-Cheney government. Being a lawyer, knowing many lawyers, I was proud of Al Gore's leadership in helping those of us who supported him come to understand that the public process had to stop - we had to move forward. Our stability and strength as a government organized by a man-made constitution depended upon it. But it was very, very hard on a personal level.
And then, a year later, I started a blog and got to interview, with other bloggers, candidates for every state race, for local races and, yes, I got to interview Barack Obama (I know - I was going to not say it but it's not in the context of his run for president!) at the Ohio Democratic Party state dinner.
As most political bloggers will probably tell you, blogging about politics can be intense. But anyone who still has an image of us blogging in pajamas, never getting out and only regurgitating what others say has never met one of us. We are the active of the active - and I get more so with every entry.
And it's this resurgence of involvement for me - now that I'm a working parent in midlife but having lived in Washington, DC and working in the government and interning on Capitol Hill - that's come from blogging and participating in online political communities that has strengthened my adoration for the right to vote - no matter how crappy my choices.
I simply cannot abdicate it - I cannot. If we don't use our right to vote to assert ourselves, what else really has any meaning? Sure, the system can really fail us - remember, I've lived in Ohio for 20 years now.
And in fact, in 2006, I interviewed then Democratic candidate, now the actual Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner and specifically asked about voter education. I even mentioned that I believe we should be teaching, through our civics classes (in Ohio, we have some civics on our proficiencies), a sense of obligation about voting. Now, I know that sounds kind of radical, but I do mean it - not in the sense that people would be committing a crime if they don't vote, but I think about it this way: why shouldn't we feel obligated to contribute, to participate? We have to pay taxes - shouldn't we also feel that we have to vote? I know - maybe not apples to apples, but inside me? I feel that way. It's just something I must do - it is not anything that anyone else can do for me.
Come to think of it, maybe I feel this way because I live in a state that has perhaps the most notorious record of voter hanky-panky of all the states, Florida included. If you're not so sure, watch the movie Recount some night.
So, for this first post of mine on Election 08, I wanted to focus attention on some of the highs and lows of our privilege of the right to vote. Here's the exercise:
What does it mean to you to be a voter?
Why do you take it seriously - or not so seriously? Especially in light of knowing that there's no way that one person, one vote can ever be, realistically speaking, secured? And knowing that we still have an electoral college that can lead to results that contradict the popular vote totals.
What do you like the most and the least about voting?
Can you think of and describe a time when you remember feeling gret about voting, and horrible about voting?
Do you remember your first time being in or at a voting booth? How about the last time? What do you remember most?
Is there anything else that the concept of voting makes you think about? (For example, I haven't written about how I felt, as a Jew, to have the option to vote for a Jew on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2000; maybe that kind of identity politics, which is often maligned, is something that is a bigger factor than we give it credit for when it comes to how people feel about voting.)