This I Believe

Scott - Seattle, Washington
Entered on November 7, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: citizenship

I believe that the act of voting in the United States of America should be done at one’s polling place when possible, and by absentee ballot only when necessary.

I was stunned and saddened last election when departing the polls to be greeted by a young woman who informed me that King County, Washington, has decided to close its polling places. To vote in King County, in the very near future, one must mail in an absentee ballot. Sadly, I am learning this is a trend, closing of public polls, not a spurious infringement on my duty to democracy in this geographic outpost, waaay up here in the Pacific Northwest. Odds are that you either have, or soon will also forego your right to vote in a public polling place with your peers.

Our County Executive is joined by other electeds in claiming the cost of keeping polling places staffed and open to the public is prohibitive. I wonder if those before us, who paid the ultimate price, would agree. Or their families, neighbors and friends.

As a grammar student in the 1960’s, I remember when my mom worked at the polls in our school’s gymnasium. She caught the pulse of our community, and shared what she heard those nights at the dinner table, with somewhere around $21 dollars of pay for the day’s work, to boot.

In the early 1980’s I relocated to Juneau, Alaska for a year. Shortly after arriving, Alaska had an election. A controversial ballot measure sought to relocate that state’s capitol from Juneau to Gridwood, a suburb of Anchorage. Since half of all Alaskans live in Anchorage (which is the economic capitol of Alaska), it was critical to all the other communities and villages to maintain a balance of political power by voting “no” and keeping the capitol in Juneau. Throughout the day, Alaskan residents came the business where I worked wearing “I voted” buttons on their shirts, blouses or jackets. After work, and before the polls closed I stopped by the grocery store for a few items and was told by the checkout clerk that I could not by groceries until I came back with an “I Voted Today” button from the polls. She let me off the hook when I showed her my out-of-state drivers license. Juneau retained the capitol, by a narrow margin and huge voter turnout.

There are no “I Voted Today” buttons for absentee ballots.

My children, now 14 and 12, came with me to their elementary school gymnasium when I voted during their elementary school years. For a few elections, there were kiddie ballots to be filled out with crayons. Vote for president – George Washington, Abe Lincoln or Susan B. Anthony. Favorite Fast Food – McDonalds, Burger King, or Dairy Queen.

At the polls, my kids saw me, before entering the gym, talking with friends and neighbors about issues. They also saw me debriefing once back on the street.

Had I voted by absentee ballot, they would have missed all of this. My casting a vote would have been akin to paying the water bill.

I have heard arguments in favor of voting absentee – there is no rush, one can take one’s time to review each item prior to checking the box to cast each vote. My counter to this point? I, too, have time to consider the issues prior to going to the polls; once in the polling booth, I have never been asked to “hurry up”, or been warned the polls are going to close.

I never had the honor of serving my country – but I was at the tail end of the draft – having to register, but not getting a lottery number. I never saw the true cost of freedom forged on a battlefield – either offshore or on this, our country’s sovereign, soil.

But today, this morning, November 6th – like the first Tuesday of every November, my alarm clock went of a little earlier than usual. I didn’t hit the snooze button, rather I rolled out from the covers, made my way to the thermostat, then roused the wife and kids. The kids were dropped at the bus stop a bit earlier than usual, I headed to their former elementary school’s gymnasium and saw the bright eyes of those working the polls.

None’s eyes are brighter than those of retired vets, pleased to see another voter. I do not believe I imagined what their souls conveyed in the short time we spent together. They were there for a reason, to see me. To see other voters. To confirm, or affirm in their own minds that, despite the sacrifices they made serving our country, despite the ultimate sacrifices their pals and our shared forbears made for democracy, on polling days, at the polls, one sees that maybe, just maybe, it was worth it.

When I see the vets at my polling place, I say thank you, while looking them straight in the eye. Whether from the era of World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, or more recent engagements.

If you disagree and wish to cast an absentee ballot, I say that is your choice. Thank you for voting. But, please, there are some things I do not believe are to be done by phone, email, US mail or otherwise as an absentee. They include paying last respects to a loved one, getting married, experiencing the joy of the birth of your own children, and voting.

And for reasons including those I’ve just touched upon, not necesarily in that order.