We live in a small town a bit outside the fray. Still, close enough to the fray to have some of the voter diversity that a college community typically offers. Yet with the lines that are drawn by the powers that be, our district is distinctly a bright brilliant shade of red without so much as a tinge of purplish cast. For local and regional elections, my vote is a whistle in the wind in a district scarlet with moderate to love-my-God-love-my-guns (not necessarily in that order) Republicans.
We first realized we might be in an exclusively red area when a candidate at the farmers’ market in town asked for our support. Upon learning that we were not in his district, he said something along the lines of, “You will get no attention from Democrats out there. If you need anything, just contact our office in town.” In our first election cycle here we discovered what he meant. There may be registered Democrats in our town but there are no Democrats in the running for the local or regional offices in our district. Our representation is strictly Republican, and unfortunately so as far as I can tell, of the God-and-guns and not the moderate variety.
In California, with countless propositions and candidates of all stripes, we were provided with a giant sample ballot and a voter booklet that described both the pros and cons of each proposition and statements from the candidates, not to mention the a barrage of mailings, television ads, phone calls, and ringing doorbells. It is a bit quieter around here, a couple of mailings from the better backed (i.e, funded) candidates and that is about it. I did not even know what was on my ballot and had to look it up online to see what decisions were mine to make. In California we had a system whereby if you opted to vote by mail, and–if you did not miss an election cycle–you were automatically mailed a vote-by-mail ballot. No such system here, but having once voted by mail I get an email inviting me to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot. This is a great thing, because often it is the only way I find out there is going to be an election. But we do have early voting.
Early voting is the opportunity to go to the polls anytime from early morning to early evening in the week before the official Election Day. A couple of nights ago I did an online search for my primary ballot, looked at my few choices, and made my decisions in preparation for voting. Yesterday I donned a livin’ on the prairie flannel shirt, the appropriate blend-right-in attire for entering a den of redder than red voters. Sure enough, the two people in front of me were Republican: one a dour and silent man who quietly collected his ballot and bee lined to his voter kiosk with eyes front and expression firmly set, and the other a recently coiffed, immaculately dressed, mostly grey-haired lady with the friendliness and easy chatter so common to many Midwesterners. When asked if she was Republican or Democrat she said, “Republican, but really Independent.” That launched us all into a yes, who-likes-either-party-we-are-all-independent exchange of remarks as the election official printed out her two page ballot. I exhaled, knowing this well dressed and carefully coiffed lady was not likely to be a pushing, shoving, belligerent Donald supporter. Or, if a Donald supporter, certainly not of that ilk. As she walked away to fill out her multi-page ballot, I stepped up, signed in, and with less fear of scowls and Donald-worthy sneers, declared “Democrat” in response to the which party question. One partially covered single-sided page printed out.
I took my little ballot to the private kiosk, with instructions to insert my ballot into the privacy cover before bringing it to the voting machine. There I selected from my limited primary options for national and state level positions. Office after office listed “no candidate filed,” leaving me little to do. My Republican friend swiftly filled out her ballot, carried it to the machine snug in the privacy cover, fed it in the machine, and turned to leave as I followed behind with my covered ballot. My ballot would not go in. The official stood by as I tried to feed it to the machine a few times then stepped in and flipped it this way and that, naked of its cover, and attempted to get the machine to swallow it whole. Finally, removing the feeder cover, we discovered an accordion shaped two-page ballot obstructing my one-pager. Our friend was just stepping through the door but heard the commotion and returned. Heedless of my naked ballot with its few marks, I quickly averted my eyes from the naked accordianed mult-page ballot lest I break all codes of voter secrecy or, worse, be disillusioned by the discovery of which Republican Presidential candidate she had marked. Mine, all this time, was hanging out in all its naked glory. Cleared of the obstruction, we jointly fed my scantily clad and scantily marked page into the machine successfully, my secrets revealed to all who gathered there. After an exchange of a few pleasantries, my eyes still averted from the other ballot, I left everyone to their task of solving the accordian ballot puzzle.
Safe at last, no dirty looks or sneers in my wake for all that exposure. As the door was closing behind me, I heard, “Oh no, she forgot her voting sticker!” The official raced to and reached the door just as I was reopening it to return for my well-earned sticker. “You cannot leave without your sticker,” she said. So there it was, I was still A-OK in spite of my vie en rose; they wanted me to have and proudly wear my “I voted” sticker. Maybe we can all get along.
I do not know if the votes I have cast have ever made a difference. I proudly registered to vote the moment I turned the legal age of 18, my first real step into adulthood and citizenship. Since that time, I have made it my mission to vote in every election. It is true that so many have put their efforts and even their lives and safety in peril for the simple right to vote, and that alone should inspire me. But the real reason I vote? I believe exercising the right to vote gives me the right to share my opinions and voice my complaints. Because–in spite of the many vote for none options–I vote in the hopes that we will one day elect people who, regardless of party affiliation, can get along and work together to solve problems as cordially as we the voters, from different parties and different backgrounds, were able to do in our little polling place. That, and that one day they will draw some reasonable district lines.