I was right on the verge of writing a "When I was young..." semi-rant when I realized I had another "When I was young..." semi-rant that was entirely more timely and needed to be said.
As I write this we are mere days away from a major election in this country. Everyone I know is abuzz about it. We don't all agree on who to vote for, but we all agree that voting is important. Of course, we're all thirty-something, or more in some cases. I guess I have some slightly more distant friends and acquaintances in their twenties who are also abuzz. But as I read the polls and consider the phrase "likely voter", I am always drawn to the kids who have crossed their eighteenth birthday some time in the last 4 years. The elusive "first time voter."
For some reason, these people just don't vote. And in much more significant numbers than the coalition of the apathetic that make up near 50% of the electorate. Sure, every four years people claim that this year will be different. Yeah. Tell that to Democratic Nominee Howard Dean. He staked his campaign on those elusive people and while many came to his rallies, not enough came to vote.
Why the low turnout? I consider voting a right, a privilege, and an obligation. I think everyone should vote. Yet they don't. As with many issues, I examine the "nurture" component. When I was a lad, living in Buffalo New York, early November was a time of great chilled weather. You were lucky if you trick-or-treated without a coat over your costume. And by the time election day came around, everyone was indoor-bound.
The polling places were in the schools, for the most part. And unlike now in New Mexico (is this a now issue or a New Mexico issue), the kids did not get the day off from school. So the polls were not in the library or the gym-those were in use, the polls were in the hallways.
Many's the time I would be walking between classes and see one or the other of my parents waiting in line to vote. I would stop and talk to them. Stand with them as the line inched forward, stalling the trip to the next class. I'd stick around long enough to see them checked in ushered to a booth. And on a good day, I'd be asked to go in with them.
I'd stare from my short height up at the vast array of names, paragraphs, and buttons associated with each. I would marvel that everyone in the city, state, or country was this very day going into places just like this to do the same thing. I would wonder how you could ever know all those people to decide between them. Oh I had my pick for President-funny how it always matched my parent's pick back then.
I was born in 1965, so the first election I got to vote in was the presidential election of 1984. That one was, of course, something of a yawner. But I was so excited that it was finally my turn to vote. I studied the issues. Studied the candidates. Shake would say I was still way too influenced by my parents opinions, as I came to my conclusions. And off I went to vote.
Looking at it from my experience, I don't understand why first-timers aren't rushing to vote. Perhaps their schools sent them home on election day, making it more about a holiday than a civic duty (The first election day I experienced in New Mexico, my car was egged on the way to vote by some delinquent who was celebrating his holiday-I have a bad attitude).Maybe they never saw their parents vote or heard their parents talking politics. Maybe they're cynical, twisted souls who think they can't affect the world. I'm not sure. Though I am sure it's not a new effect, it's been this way for as long as I can remember, and probably longer.
So I fight the symptom-I encourage everyone to vote. Here in New Mexico they have early voting now. There's a sign on my truck that says "I have voted. Have you?" Non partisan, nothing to in-your-face. Just a nudge to get off your butt and do it.
And, as always, I took Quinn with me. He waits with me in line, inching forward as people are let through. He watches me sign in and then joins me in the voter booth. Whether it's the old-style booth or the new computer systems, he always gets to push a few of the buttons (I make sure he has limited options to pick from, of course). And after reviewing all the choices he always gets to push the submit button, which I've heard is a crime, but I think it's setting a good example. And it seems to work. He always comes home pumped up and proud that he got to go vote.
Go vote, if you haven't already. Encourage others. And fight voter fraud at every turn. And, if you're planning to skip it but just can't decide, and if Shake will allow a plug from me, please don't skip it. Go vote Bush.
Shake would probably say I still haven't outgrown my parent's opinions.
Editor's Note - Given how often I was mentioned just couln't resist adding a note. I always encourage everyone to vote for the candidate that best supports your opinions, even if they are the same as your parents ;-)