I went to my usual polling place to vote on Tuesday. I’ve never been interested in early voting, even though I think it’s a good idea for people with busier schedules than mine. I like the ritual of going to the polls on election day, seeing familiar faces, and participating in the governing process.
Election Day always reminds me that, while we beat the drum regularly about how important the act is, we do nothing to encourage it. Election Day should be a holiday so people don’t have to fit voting into their regular routine. Failing that, it should be on a Saturday when at least some people are off work. Tuesday has only the argument of tradition in favor of it being designated as Election Day. Choosing that day doesn’t seem to be designed to encourage turnout. It almost seems to have the opposite intent, although I don’t think it’s an act of active voter suppression. Sadly, we have a history of using other methods to interfere with voting; the assignment of the number and location of polling places being a case in point. Fortunately, we have moved beyond charging people for the privilege of voting, although it took us until the 1960’s to get it into the Constitution. I’m in favor of declaring Election Day a federal holiday, which would be a clear statement by the government of how important voting is. I don’t see that happening any time soon.
Standing in line at my little community polling center is a matter of a couple of minutes at most, and when a booth opened up I stepped up to it. As it happened I was next to the booth set aside for those who needed to vote from a sitting position, and as I was keying in my ID number a woman took the chair next to me. She called a poll worker over immediately and said that she couldn’t vote without her husband because he always told her how to vote. I don’t know how the rest of the conversation went; I tuned them out and went through the process at my own machine.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I believe that an informed populace is needed to make free and open elections a legitimate process. A person, male or female, who can’t cast a ballot without their spouse’s instructions is not an informed voter. On the other hand, I know that having one person (usually the man) make the decisions for a couple has a very long tradition and is not easily set aside. A part of me wanted to lean over to the woman and say, “The advantage of a secret ballot is that you are the only person who really knows who you vote for.” The main reason I didn’t say anything is that how a person votes and how they come to that decision is a private matter and none of my business. It is each individual’s responsibility to sort through the filtering, spinning, hyperbole, and outright lies to get as accurate a picture as possible of who is vying for power and how they compare to the others trying for the same prize. One other choice, of course, is to follow the advice an old man gave me when I was still too young to vote. “Never vote the man,” he said. “Always vote the party!” Not a method I would choose, although I can see that having only two candidates to choose from would make that a tempting option. None of our foreign exchange students understood why we only had two choices. They also didn’t understand the Electoral College, and that was one of the many facets of American life that was difficult to explain or defend.
I support voting as an exercise in civic responsibility. It’s a small voice, but it is a voice, and it has occasionally changed things in a significant way.