I was so close to writing a post explaining why during this historic election I wasn't going to vote. Well, I wanted to write about it but didn't because of all the potential finger-pointing. Our society does not look favorably on those who don't vote. The people in my world look at those non-voters like they are irresponsible, uneducated, apathetic jerks who take their democratic rights for granted.
I'd likely get twice the finger-pointing because I am working on election coverage right now for the Huffington Post. I enjoy my job, love the Huffington Post, and figured that it would not look good if an employee who works on election coverage wasn't a good enough person to vote.
Luckily, I don't have to write that post. I am going to vote today.
I am registered at my parents' address in upstate New York. I spent two years living in Los Angeles and kept my New York State registration primarily because I wanted to keep my New York driver's license and plates. If I ever got pulled over by a cop, I was prepared to explain that I had NY plates because I was a New York resident -- hey, I'm even registered to vote there! I never had the opportunity to use that line. But I was prepared.
Sure if I had attended graduate school in an important state like Ohio or Florida, I would have changed my registration. But since my vote in neither New York nor California matters, I figured I should prioritize my license plate. Yes, I have New York pride.
I voted by absentee from LA in the primary. Then I moved to Brooklyn and was too busy working on election coverage to think about changing my registration, so I planned on voting again by absentee. But then the days went by. Day after day. I kept reminding myself -- to do lists, sticky pads, knots on fingers -- to print out that absentee ballot application. But I was too busy thinking about voting and editing voting stories and reading about voting problems and following all those polls.
At this point, it was days before the election, and I still hadn't printed out the application form to receive an absentee ballot. I was sure I had missed the deadline. I knew my ballot wasn't going to swing the election, but the guilt built up inside of me. Here we have an historic election, historic election, historic election, how many times do we need to remind ourselves it's an historic election -- and I wasn't voting? Here I was working on campaign coverage, and I wasn't voting?
What really got me was imaging my grandchildren asking me about this election. Could I say that I didn't cast my vote in it?
In an attempt to alleviate some of the guilt, I finally printed out the absentee ballot application and put it in the mail. I knew that it wouldn't make the deadline and I'd probably never receive the actual absentee ballot let alone mail it back in time. But I figured I could try to convince myself that I did my civic duty. If I just pretended it got there in time, that's enough, right? I mean, this is New York. Not like we're going to be staying up all night waiting for our results.
But then...lo and behold...my step-dad called on Saturday morning. It turns out the Orange Country Registrar in Goshen, New York, had tried sending me an absentee ballot in Los Angeles plus got my application from Brooklyn. I had thoroughly confused them. Luckily, no Acorn accusations.
Goshen is a rather small town, and someone working at the registrar's office recognized either my name or my parents' address. She cared so much about my ability to vote in this election that she tried calling my mom's house all week. We may live in New York, but that is real America. (Update: She also tried calling my dad's house in the next town. Now that is real real America.) She finally reached my step-dad, who explained what had happened, and he is going to bring my absentee ballot to the city today. Just in time for me to vote.
When my step-dad told me this, I was surprisingly thrilled. I still am.
All along I thought my need to vote was just about appearances. I thought I wanted to participate not because it mattered to the electoral count but because not voting would look bad.
But now that I actually can vote, it feels so good I want to brag about it. I too can cast my ballot. I can be part of something much bigger than me. There has never been an election in my lifetime that I have worked so hard on or followed so closely (and I spent the summers of 2000 and 2004 working for campaigns). Now, in 2008, I finally have the opportunity to choose a candidate who truly inspires me, who gives me hope. If my candidate wins, I can stop cringing during State of the Union addresses. If he wins and I travel abroad again, I won't have to explain to every foreigner I meet that I do not agree with my government. I can be proud again to be American. And if he wins, I will have helped get him there.
I keep thinking about those photos of men and women in Iraq who voted for the first time. I feel like dipping my finger in ink and waving it in the air for all to see. My voice might not swing the election, but at least it will be counted.
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