I don’t think I’m ever going to stop loving elections. It’s what happens when you grow up in a polling place. Even though my house hasn’t been a polling place for years, every night before an election I get a little tingly, thinking of the setup. Bringing in the polling booths, unfolding their legs, making sure the privacy screens are up. Setting out the big barrel for ballots along with the sealed boxes of ballots for opening in the morning. Laying out voter rolls and pens and pencils, arranging them just so for the early-morning rush, because there always is one, those people who want to get their votes in before they head out to work.
And then the trickle of voters coming in over the course of the day, and the evening rush, and the spurt that would happen right before polls closed. In our polling place days, we fed all the election workers and any voters who happened to drop by when dinner was on, and it became a big block party as people passed around pies and ate spaghetti. A sense of community, whether we were voting in a small regional election or a big national one.
And the Presidential election is pretty much the epitome of the big national election. My first Presidential election was such a huge and exciting moment for me, and I was so thrilled to finally have the chance to be one of the ballots from California, one of the people behind the electoral votes my state would cast to determine the next President of the United States. I’m excited on behalf of all the people who are voting for the first time today, or who are voting in their first Presidential election, and I hope they’re excited too, because it’s such a rite of passage.
Living in California, I always hated that it felt like elections were pretty much decided before we even really got a chance to get rolling. People would decide not to bother going to the polls because the outcome of the Presidential election was basically determined, and so I’d like to remind people again today, as I always do, that you should go vote, no matter what. It’s important. Even if your individual vote for President isn’t that important in the big scheme of things, your vote can make a big difference in terms of initiatives, propositions, and local races. Please cast your vote for local politics.
You don’t have to fill out every field on a ballot. It’s okay to skip over things that don’t interest you, that you don’t have an opinion on, that you feel conflicted about. But grab a ballot anyway, because you can, and fill out what you feel comfortable with, and add your votes to those of other people in your district. Because you, as an individual, matter, and you’d be surprised by how tight some local races get. Sometimes a few votes really is all it takes, especially if you remind friends, family, and coworkers to cast their ballots too.
I don’t care how you vote. That’s not my business. I just want you to vote. I’m happy to offer opinions and endorsements, to talk about the policy repercussions of some decisions, but ultimately, what you do with your ballot, what you mark or don’t mark, is your business. I love secret balloting and the ability it gives us to be honest and open with our votes, true to our beliefs inside the voting booth; true as possible, at any rate, in a world where instant runoff voting isn’t available and people may be forced to pick between majority party members rather than supporting the candidates they truly love.
This year, I’m thinking of all the people disenfranchised by the tide of voter suppression initiatives across the country intended to prevent people from reaching the polls. There are people who are eligible to vote today who will not be able to because they are being discriminated against, through voter ID, through dodgy roll purges, through other activities. It makes me burn with anger to know that these people won’t be able to vote even though they are legally allowed to do so and in some cases may be correctly registered. For them, if not for yourself, go vote. Because we need to reform electoral politics in this country and we need to roll back the legislation that’s costing people their right to cast their ballots.
And if you see hinky doings at the polls, say something. Say it on the spot and demand to be listened to. Ask to file a formal report. Document the situation with as much detail as possible. Send that documentation to local papers, your Representative, the County clerk or other official responsible for handling voters, and voter rights organisations in your area. Report it to Election Protection. Be annoying, because your courage may help other voters resist attempts at coercion or suppression too.
Say something if you see ballots being handled oddly or if you think electronic voting machines are not working correctly. Say something if a disabled voter is being forced to vote out in the open without privacy, or is not given an accessible ballot, forcing the voter to rely on someone else’s word that the ballot is being filled out correctly. Say something if you see a voter being hassled by poll workers, or if people are encroaching on the polls with electioneering materials. If you feel uncomfortable, say something. If you’re afraid to say something, write an anonymous note and try to get it to the right person.
Because voting is not a privilege. It’s a right. Now get out there and exercise it, if you haven’t already.