Wednesday, November 09, 2016

My Voter Qualifications

The first election I participated in was the Presidential Election of 1980.  But the birth of my political awareness came about four years earlier when I marked up my father’s sample ballot without asking him first.  
It was 1976.  A few days before the election.  I was 15 and I don’t recall myself being particularly interested in politics.  I was aware of it going on, but I wasn’t the most political of beings at the time.  My best friend from Jr. High School was VERY politically oriented and aware.  He would talk to me about politics, foreign and domestic, and I would nod and listen.  
On this particular day, walking home from somewhere on my way to somewhere else, I noticed my dad’s sample ballot sitting on the coffee table in the family room.  Prompted by something lost in memory, maybe a discussion my political friend, I picked it up and started flipping through it.  Then, I started checking off how I would vote, using my dad’s pen sitting next to where the ballot had been placed.  Some of the candidates I didn’t know or recognize, and a couple of the propositions were confusion, but I checked off who I would’ve voted for in all the races.  
Done, I set the ballot back where I found it with dad’s pen on top.  
Sometime later, after going somewhere else and coming back, I walked through the front door of my house, heading toward my bedroom.  
My dad was in the family room, sitting at the end of sofa where he could see who came into the house.  The sample ballot I had marked up was now on the arm of the sofa, under his hand.  
“Yeah?”  I walked to the entrance of the family room.  
“Were you the one that wrote your choices in my sample ballot.”  
Uh-oh.  My parents have never been hugely political, they never volunteered or campaigned for anyone.  But they voted and I knew they had strong beliefs about who or what should win.  
“Uh…  Yeah…”  
“Sit down here a moment.  I wanna have a talk.”  
I sighed.  I tromped my way to the love-seat, which was against the wall on the other side of the corner next to the sofa.  I kinda threw myself down on the seat.  I shrugged.  I was already trying to figure out how I could get through whatever lecture I was going to get as soon as possible.  
My dad ignored the display of attitude.  He flipped open the ballot and pointed at something.  
“You checked off that you’d vote this fella.  I was wondering why…”  He handed the ballot to me, nodding at where I marked it.  
I hemmed and hawed.  I shrugged.  I said, “I dunno.”  I wanted to be let go and allowed to back to whatever it was I was planning on doing.  It was something I did on a lark.  Something that was fun to do for the twenty minutes or half hour it took to do it.  
But my dad was having none of it.  He began to push back.  “What d’ya mean, ‘I dunno.’  That guy might send you to war one day.  Why would you pick him over this other one?”  He kept pushing me for reasons on every single candidate and measure.  
I probably could have kept up my teenage indifference, but something happened in core part of my brain.  I began to suspect that he thought I was “just a kid,” that had marked up his ballot.  The way a toddler might use a box of crayons to “improve” pictures in a magazine.  
I began to answer back with, “Because I think he’s better.”  When asked why, I try to find a reason that felt right.  Sometimes I’d end up with, “Just because.  I just…  Trust him more.”  My dad would grunt and go on to the next candidate or the next measure.  
It went on like that.  It got dark outside.  I felt cornered, but I was fighting back.  Trying my best to stand up for my opinions.  
The part I remember best was the last.  There was a proposition on the ballot that year that created smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants.  The first of its kind, I believe.  At least in California.  I had voted to approve the measure.  
“Don’t you think people have a right to do what they want?”  
“Within reason, yeah…  But I have a right to live how I want, too.”  I was clear on this one.  I was sitting on the edge of the love seat, leaning toward him.  “I don’t want to smoke.  But if I go to a restaurant and sit next to someone who smoke, then I’ll be smoking whether want to or not.”  
“So, you’ll have the government make them stop ‘cause you don’t like it?”  
“No.  I’ll have the government make them smoke and eat away from me, so I can not smoke and eat as much as I want.  They can smoke outside, at home, wherever.  But places like that, I want to have my own space to live as I want.”  
So there, I wanted to add.  I was poised on the edge of my seat.  I braced myself, waiting for his next attack.  
My dad looked at me for a long moment.  Peering at me like he was trying to find something in my face.  He reached out and took the ballot from me.  He tapped it against the palm of his hand.  
He tossed the ballot back on the table.  He got up and started to walk out the room. 
Dad turned back at the entrance.  
“That’s it?”
“I’m…”  A dangerous question was coming, but I had to ask.  “Not in trouble or nothin’?”  
“No.  Why would you be?”  
“I dunno.”  I shrugged.  “What was all this about, then?”  
He nodded back at the ballot.  “You choose a number of things that I wouldn’t have picked.  I just wanted to find out where you got the idea to do so.”  His expression changed to something more considering.  “I wanted to make you weren’t choosing what you heard from someone else.  That you were thinking for yourself.”  
“Oh.”  Another dangerous question…  “And…?”  
“You are.”  With that he nodded and walked out.  
After that, I wanted to vote.  I felt QUALIFIED to vote.  When I finally did, in 1980, it made me feel a part of something bigger and brighter than I had thought it could be.  
I remembered that story as I stood in line to vote at my poling place yesterday.  I wrote it at work.  I planned to finish it off when I got home and post it before the results of the election became “official.”  I ended up not doing that.  
I have been disappointed in the results of presidential elections before.  This is the tenth time I’ve voted for President.  The person I voted for has lost six of those time.  
Looking at my story now, trying to take a lesson from it for today…  I’m thinking of the anger.  The desire to push back and show someone over me that I had an opinion that needed to be heard.  That same sort of thing has happened to us, to the nation, yesterday I think.  
Yesterday, while waiting for my turn to vote, I kept looking around at the people standing in line with me.  These are all people who live near me, I kept thinking.  Neighbors.  People that drive the same streets.  Shop in the same stores.  Eat at the same restaurants.  I didn’t recognize one of them as someone I’d seen before.  But we were brought together by a process that I felt was beautiful.  It gave me a lift.  It made me feel good, happy to participate.  
What this morning is teaching me is, I think, is that voting is just one part of the process.  It is the expression of your opinion, your choice.  But like going to church on Sunday for a person of faith, you need to take that choice and make it work in your life on a daily basis.  
Something like that.  It’s kind of a lame ending to this posting, but that goes with how I think things went yesterday.  

I do look forward for my chance to vote again.  As I always do.  Even more than before. 


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