I received my ballot in the mail over the weekend.
While I am used to going to the polls each year on election day, Oregon — my new state of residence — operates on ballots instead. You know, the mail-in kind. They tell me that using the ballot system has dramatically increased voter participation, and I’m all for that, but I’ll still miss going to the polls.
I remember accompanying my mother when she went to vote, when I was just a toddler. It was all very exciting, stepping into the booth with her, the curtain closing behind us, so many levers and buttons everywhere. It felt very much like the Wizard of Oz. She must have explained something about what she was doing, and what elections were about, because I understood that we were in a powerful place, and that the few seconds my mother spent choosing one button over another was important work.
As an adult with the right and privilege to vote, I’ve dealt with absentee ballots, punch-cards, and the old-fashioned, lever-operated booths. That last one is definitely my favorite. As luck would have it, I lived just a block away from my polling station in my last house in Virginia, and for seven years I arose early each election day, made the short walk over to the library, and closed those magic curtains behind me.
I even learned how to write in a candidate’s name on one of those machines. I couldn’t stomach voting for the unopposed incumbent Senator John Warner, and so wrote in my father’s name instead. When I called Dad to tell him, he teased me about not having run a more effective campaign, but then he said, “At least I’ll always know that one person voted for me.”
Warner won anyway.
I have a tendency to become borderline-annoyingly patriotic as election day draws near. I not only remind all my friends — and anyone I see on the street, generally — to vote, but I also remind them of the entire populations on this earth who don’t get to participate in their own government, and of the long lines at the polls in countries whose citizens finally do get to vote. We’re talking about people who stand in line for hours and days, to exercise that very precious and newly won right of casting a single ballot.
If they’d let me, I’d likely be outside my neighborhood polling station with pom-poms and fruit punch.
But I have no polling station now. No more levers or magic curtains. It’s just me, a piece of paper, and a mailbox.
Still, you know that ballot won’t be gathering dust. Not at my house. It’s in a special drawer, where the critters can’t get it, and it will be post-marked by the end of the week, at the latest. If there weren’t so many local issues to weigh in on — and which I want to learn about and consider carefully, epsecially since I’m new in town — it would have been done ten minutes after I received it.
And if you’re looking for something to do on November 2nd, you’re welcome to come watch the televised news circus here. There might even be left-over Halloween candy….