On Voting

One of my earliest memories is of my parents voting. I was four. We walked 0.2 miles to the polling location in downtown Keewatin, Minnesota. At the polling place, which was also city hall, the library, the post office, the police office, and the jail, my parents signed in and entered separate curtained-off booths. My mom says I wandered in and out of each booth while they voted.

privacy booths by mystereys.
privacy booths by mystereys.

When I was six, my parents voted in the midterm election. On the way home, I asked my parents whom they voted for. My mom’s response was to give me a short lesson about Australian (private) ballots. She said that one of the ideals that made the US great is that we don’t have to tell anyone how we voted. Voting is serious, personal business. That lesson has stayed with me. I value the privacy of our votes, and I rarely come out and say how I voted. But, I think most people I meet can guess how I vote in at least some of the races based on my demographic: I am an over-educated, childless white woman in my 30s. But, I do research each candidate, regardless of affiliation. And I appreciate “blind” quizzes in which I pick an unattributed statement made by a politician that most aligns with my views to help decide whom to vote for.

I have voted in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Oklahoma. The first time I voted, I had just turned 18, and it was a presidential election year. I voted an absentee ballot for Minnesota while I was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. I remember some difficulties in this process. I went to city hall before I left for college, but they did not have ballots available yet. I would not be home again until after the election, and I didn’t have a car to drive over to MN to pick one up from a closer town. I left for school without knowing how I would be able to vote absentee, since you need to fill out paperwork that says you are who you say you are and have the paperwork signed by a witness. Luckily, friends of my parents were travelling from my hometown through Wisconsin, and they were willing to make a stop in Stevens Point, WI to bring me a ballot and sign off as witnesses. I sat at my dormitory desk, looking over the handwritten notes I had made in the basement computer lab, and filled out the ballot very carefully. Part of me was surprised that I had such an awesome responsibility. My voice, for the first time in my life, counted as much as one of my parents’ voices. This was one of my first “I’m an adult now” experiences. Another, I’m an adult now experience I had around the same time was realizing that I could, if I wanted, eat ice cream after every single meal including breakfast. I was an idealist.

The next time I voted was when I was 20. I voted in Wisconsin in a midterm election, giving up my affiliation with Minnesota. Most of me still identified as Minnesotan; however, I realized that I was now deeply affected by policy makers in Wisconsin, and I was called to participate in Wisconsin’s decision. My notes and I rode in a free van from my dorm to my polling place. I tried to vote as early in the day as possible, so I could wear my “I voted” sticker all day.

The next times I voted were in Minnesota, again, since I was going to graduate school at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. My district elected the first Muslim, Keith Ellison, to congress. In MN, I experienced the longest lines. Here, I felt like I was surround by engaged voters – I was not the only one with hand written notes. It is in MN that I had the biggest sense of community while voting, which isn’t surprising because Minnesota has the highest average voter turn out of any state I’ve lived in.

By the time the 2012 presidential election rolled around, I was living in the swing state of Ohio. All the commercials were political—presidential candidates, senate candidates, house candidates, local candidates, judge candidates, and some weird ads paid for by a wealthy international businessman and Super PACs. I also got a ton of mail. Flyers from Mitt Romney mansplaining what it means to be a woman today. (I had to write his campaign an email after receiving that ad – I don’t need a man to tell me about the state of women’s health in the US. I wish I had kept one of the flyers to scan into this post.) A DVD called “Dreams of my Real Father,” which was a “documentary” about Obama. After months of solid political ads in the media and in my mailbox, I got to vote. I entered my polling place just behind a van of residents from a Jewish retirement home. It felt like my vote really counted. My vote had been courted for months. A variety of groups were spending lots of money in my area, which was highlighted for me when I belatedly watched Karl Rove’s meltdown about Ohio going to Obama after he had spent a lot of money in our state.

On Tuesday, I voted in Oklahoma for the first time. There was no line – voter turn out was just under 30% here. Voting in Oklahoma has been a unique experience. Scott and I had the option of registering to vote when we registered our car in Oklahoma – but we had to ask about this service and the workers were a bit surprised we wanted to do this. In contrast, in Ohio the people in the Motor Vehicle office asked me about registration before I had a chance to bring it up myself. In order to vote in primaries, I had to declare a party affiliation—not an ideal situation for someone who considers each candidate regardless of affiliation. And, the biggest surprise for me was that OK has a space on the ballot to vote a “straight ballot.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 7.26.18 PM
Screenshot of preview ballot

First, unless you’re voting a straight Republican ballot, it’s impossible to vote a straight ballot in OK. Second, “Independent” is not a “straight ballot” option – you can only vote a major party straight ballot. Third, I don’t think that straight ballot voting by filling out one square should be an option, even in OK (or TX), because it does not encourage people to actually research their options without thinking about party affiliation. I sent this screenshot to my mom and she was amazed at the symbols next to each political party. She asked me, “Is one a chicken and the other an eagle?” I think one is a rooster (yes, a male chicken) and that the other is a Canada Goose. But, I couldn’t find information about this on Google.

Voting is important. I know that a variety of people with a variety of political ideologies do not vote because the choices are so poor or there are no “protest” options. I hear you. I also feel like I am choosing what I hope will be the lesser of two evils. Or like I’m throwing away a protest vote for a third party. I wish we had more than a two party system. But, in the meantime, I will participate in the system as much as possible because a non-vote of protest isn’t counted.

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