It's the most wonderful day of the year
This is my favorite day of the year.
It is the only day that I get to count.
As a reporter, I am not allowed to have public opinions about our beloved political leaders and our equally beloved out-of-power opposition.
I can’t ever say anything about my political views, no matter how often our dear politicians try to weasel it out of me.
When I see them at the grocery store, some of them grin at me conspiratorially and say, “Who are you voting for? It’s okay, I won’t tell.”
I give them clues, sometimes, artfully designed to not actually give them enough information to answer their question. I never vote a complete party line. I’ve never had every one of my picks win. When I add up my total votes over time, my number of votes for Republicans vs. Democrats is pretty much equal, but there’s a good percentage of third party votes in there too.
This is enough to make them back off and think for awhile, but not enough to reveal the actual truth, which is that I don’t care about any of their so-called parties. I vote for individuals.
This is difficult for some of them to understand. One of them actually called me up, years ago, to angrily demand to know where I lived. Did I really live in Schenectady County? he asked. I said yes, warily.
“You’re a blank!” he accused.
(This, in layman’s terms, means I’m not registered with any political party.)
I like the idea of getting to vote in a primary, no matter what party it’s for, but I don’t register because if I did, every party other than “mine” would immediately accuse me of bias. Currently they all accuse me of bias, which in journalism terms means I’m being perfectly fair to all of them.
But even though I can’t vote in any primaries, believe me, as a reporter I have very definite ideas about which candidates should make it to the general election.
I don’t express those ideas. I can’t walk into a primary day polling booth, I can’t sign a balloting petition, I can’t put a sign in my yard. I can’t even quietly urge my friends to vote for (or against) any candidates.
What really grates is that everyone around me tries to get me to talk.
At the farmers market. At Art Night. At the convenience store in the middle of the night. I am never safe. Everybody wants to tell me whom they’re voting for, and then they want to know if, with all I see and hear in politics, I think their pick is good.
I don’t ever tell them. Ethically, I feel I can’t.
But, boy oh boy, do I have ideas. They are right: I do hear and see a lot more than I can possibly put into a story. I see politicians when they’re not “on,” and I know which ones usually compromise their values, which ones know how to work the system to get things done, and which ones routinely show a glimmer of competence.
I just don’t tell anyone. Oh, I can quote them. I can explain the context of debates, I can tell you who maneuvered whom, but I cannot flat-out say: “In this reporter’s opinion, so-and-so is completely useless and that’s why this important thing didn’t get done.”
The only time I ever get to express my true feelings about the uselessness of various politicians, both those in and out of power, is on Election Day.
For one blissful moment, in the privacy of a voting booth, I can let it all out. My opinion gets to count.
I can’t tell you whom I’m voting for today — not that it matters much, since I live in Schenectady and most of the races are uncontested — but I can tell you the three factors that I use to weigh my decisions every year.
First of all, I vote against anybody who has routinely made my job more difficult. I believe in transparency in government and I think democracy only works if the public knows what its government is doing. If somebody is making that impossible, they don’t get my vote.
Even worse, if they outright lie to me — and through me to the public — they don’t get my vote. Sadly, in some cases I have been forced to choose between candidates who have ALL lied to me. Then I turn to factor three.
If all the candidates seem of equally dubious moral character, and are as transparent as a plate of steel, I pick the one whom I’m most likely to be able to interrogate.
After all, in such cases I need to at least have a dishonest, opaque politician whom I can harass day and night until I get some glimmer of the truth.
So if all else fails, I pick the one who has given me his or her personal cellphone number.