I love voting
When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to vote and when I turned 18 I registered.
I was too young to vote in the presidential election of 1992, but I’ve voted in every major election since. I voted absentee in New Hampshire in 1996 while attending college in Ohio, as an Alabama resident in 2000 and as a New Yorker in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
I love voting, and I’ve never understood people who consider it some kind of onerous burden. Nonvoters usually leave me speechless, but this year I attempted to persuade a few of them to go vote, with mixed results. Some of them have reasonable arguments about the futility of voting in a country where everything hinges on the Electoral College; others are simply apathetic, and I find it much more difficult to talk to them, mainly because apathy is something I just do not get.
My voting experiences have always been uneventful, and this year was no different.
I walked up to my polling place around 9:30 a.m., got my ballot, filled it out and scanned it in the fancy new voting machine. The whole process took about five minutes — about 20 minutes less than it took me to contest a parking ticket at Albany City Hall earlier in the week — and I headed to work full of satisfaction. Come what may, I had done my civic duty.
I know people who live in states, such as Colorado and Maine, where they can vote early, but I’ve always enjoyed going to the polls — I like the energy, the engagement, the sense that democracy is something tangible and real, and that I am a part of it. But if I lived in a place where I had to wait hours to vote, I’d probably be singing a different tune.
So count me among those who were appalled by reports of lengthy waits in key districts in swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia; in Miami-Dade County, some voters waited in line for six or seven hours.
I’ve seen the explanations for why voting took so long from elections officials in those states and I’ve been unimpressed. These officials have fingered high turnout as the culprit — as if high turnout is an unexplained phenomenon, much akin to an alien attack, that nobody could have seen coming.
I mean, good grief! Presidential elections happen once every four years and they’re a pretty big deal. And yet these election officials claim to have been blown away by the fact that lots of people wanted to vote. In the Miami Herald, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez suggested that perhaps the county should have provided more voting booths, ballot scanners and workers at large precincts. Gee, do you think so?
The whole fiasco made me want to send elections officials from the Capital Region down to Florida to teach them how to run an election. I don’t like to begin sentences by using the phrase “here in America,” but I am just going to come right out and say it: Here in America, nobody should have to wait seven hours to vote. And it didn’t escape my notice, as someone who believes that voting should be easy and accessible (and maybe even done by mail!), that many of the slow states took steps to make voting in this election harder than it was in 2008, from enacting voter ID requirements to reducing early voting days.
There’s a lot of blame to go around, but I’m directing most of my ire at Florida.
Reading about the Sunshine State’s inability to properly run an election caused me to flash back to 2000, when I was up half the night waiting to see whether Gore or Bush would win Florida. Around 4 a.m. I realized that the election was not going to be resolved anytime soon and went to bed. At the time, I found the ensuing mayhem incredibly interesting — historic events usually are — but it’s nothing I want to experience ever again in my lifetime.
I don’t want a presidential election to hinge on what the state of Florida does or doesn’t do, or what the Supreme Court has to say about it. My big fear heading into this election was that I would be up until dawn, waiting for Florida to get its act together. Thankfully, that didn’t happen — as of Thursday, Florida was the only state in the union not to declare its presidential winner, but it didn’t matter: Obama had enough electoral votes to win.
Frankly, I never want to hear another word about Florida ever again. Or Ohio.
I’ve wearied of the bizarre institution of the Electoral College and yearn instead for a national popular vote. One of the big arguments against electing our president by popular vote is that the concerns of small states would go unheard, but at this point I’m more interested in seeing voters in large nonswing states such as New York, California and Texas being treated as something other than an afterthought.
How bad has the focus on a handful of voters in swing states gotten? In 1960, Kennedy visited 49 states, while Nixon visited 50; in this election, Romney and Obama campaigned in only 10 states after their political conventions were held. Writes Adam Liptak in The New York Times, “The shrinking electoral battleground has altered the nature of American self-governance. There is evidence that the current system is depressing turnout, distorting policy, weakening accountability and effectively disenfranchising the vast majority of Americans.”
On my vacation in Colorado, I got a small taste of what it’s like to live in a swing state. You’re bombarded by attack ads and mailings, and the candidates actually visit — Romney made a stop in Boulder on the same day I arrived, and Obama visited Denver the morning we departed for our three-day trip to Vail. As we drove out of town, we could see people lining up to see him. I couldn’t help but think that it would be fun to live in a place where my vote was considered extra-valuable.
But I live in New York, and I’m proud to vote here.
When I head to the polls, I understand that I’m part of something that’s bigger than myself, and that although there is no perfect system of governance, democracy comes pretty close, and that we’re lucky to have it.
Voting is a civic duty, I’ve always found it something of a joy (a civic joy?) and I plan to keep voting every chance I get.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.