Friday, October 31, 2008

Personal stories of voting

Funny column by David Sedaris, one of my favorite authors, from the New Yorker on the subject of undecided voters.

He described his first voting experience as thus:

Because I was at college out of state, I sent my ballot through the mail. The choice that year was between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Most of my friends were going for Carter, but, as an art major, I identified myself as a maverick. “That means an original,” I told my roommate. “Someone who lets the chips fall where they may.” Because I made my own rules and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought of them, I decided to write in the name of Jerry Brown, who, it was rumored, liked to smoke pot. This was an issue very close to my heart—too close, obviously, as it amounted to a complete waste. Still, though, it taught me a valuable lesson: calling yourself a maverick is a sure sign that you’re not one.

This got a little personal because I, too, voted by absentee in my first presidential election while away at college. I, too, made a colossal mistake in voting for Ralph Nader because I was unique and couldn't possibly do something so pedestrian as to vote for a common party. (In defense of my 18-year-old self, I'm sure I deeply believed that I agreed with Nader's policies, even if I wasn't supremely clear on them.)

The column also made be remember a long lost blog post from my livejournal days describing the first time I voted at a polling place. Here's where Mr. Sedaris and I some differences in our respective first times entering a voting booth.

Nov. 2nd, 2004 | 09:30 am
mood: Proud and Patriotic!

I voted today!

I gotta say, I was pretty excited about the voting thing. Yeah, for the whole change our world, blah, blah, blah reasons, but also cause it's the first time I got to vote in a voting booth! Well, except for the time I voted in the presidential primaries with Jennifer Kennedy in Sharonville, but that wasn't a real election.

Ever since I've been away from home, I've voted via absentee ballot. I gotta admit, putting a stamp on an envelope and opening the mailbox never gave me much of a thrill. I never even got the requisite "I voted today" sticker! This is why I woke up today and was genuinely looking forward to heading to the Athens Township Building to cast my vote.

I'm not sure if I was expecting big, blue-curtained booths, stony silence of resolute Americans doing their duty or what. I was even prepared to be vigilant and indignant if someone challenged my voter eligibility. Turns out, the booths were just a row of uncurtained (boo!) plastic library cubbies that you stood in while you punched out a flimsy little card representing all your choices and beliefs for the future of your state and country.

Adding to my disappointing reality of voting, the poll workers never ONCE gave me any lip or threatened my civil rights in any way. In fact, they were downright helpful and courteous! I had Jesse Jackson's number on speed dial, and I didn't even get to use it! (Okay, maybe I actually had the Voter Protection 1-800 number written down on a post-it at the office, but I was prepared dammit!)

Even though I was a little disappointed at the easy and non-mysterious venture that is voting at the polls, I have to admit, I did feel really good walking out of the building.

I, Kristin Sutter, was doing my duty as a concerned, informed, American citizen, and my vote could help shape our society and the future of our country. Things could be better, rights protected, people saved all because I drove around the block and filled out a punch card before heading in to work for the day. Voting is my right and my privilege.

And besides all that, I finally got a sticker!

Ew, I apologize for being so disgustingly positive and cheery there. I can't help it. Even when my polling place was a bar on the corner when we first moved to Chicago--with the smell of stale beer hanging in the air while I performed my civic duty, I couldn't keep a skip out of my step as I headed to work after voting.

Elections just bring out the optimist in me, I guess.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of this Freakonomics article I was reading yesterday (have you read this book yet, because you should,) and it's all about why people vote because Economists don't like to vote because according to their social science there is little incentive to vote on a personal level. There is little chance that their vote will swing an election and it costs time and energy to do it. So they wondered why people voted at all. Would more people vote if it took less time? But when the Swiss government tried to make it easier for people to vote by letting everyone do mail in ballots, voting turnout actually dropped. They hypothesized that the incentive to vote is a social one. Being seen at the polls doing your civic duty is more important than just doing your civic duty and mailing in your vote. It helps instill a sense of community if you can share the experience with other people.

Wow, that was a long comment. Sorry about that. It was a really interesting article. ~Jenny

Kristin said...

I have read Freakonomics (extra benefit of dating Andy is access to his cool book collection) and also thought it was crazy fun to read.

I do love going to the polls, as my post indicated, so I definitely fit in with the theory.

Did you vote? Or is your dad threatening you again if McCain loses by one in Ohio? :-)

Anonymous said...

I did not vote because I am a lazy and forgetful bugger. And yes my dad will blame me for McCain losing, although in the interest of fairness and bipartisanship he also threatened to blame me if Obama lost too.

The people in the town of Obama, Japan are very happy about the results. I was undecided so I'm happy with this outcome and would have been happy with the other as well. ~Jenny