Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Vote Less Traveled By

So SuperFiancee and I went down to the local polls bright and early this morning and voted at side by side booths. Which was nice.

It troubles me, though, that I ended up voting for so many people I'd never heard of. Oh, I pretty much voted straight Democrat, following Heinlein's advice -- if you don't want to vote for someone, then vote against someone; this time around, I'm voting against Karl Rove, straight down the ticket -- but in all honesty, I would still very much like to know something about each and every candidate on the ticket to actually base my vote on.

The other side of our ballot here in River City was a whole lot of judicial races which were non-partisan. So I didn't even have the 'D' label to help me out there. I mostly voted in a blind haze, pretty much checking the name of anyone whose name I'd seen and could remember from a TV commercial or a yard sign. I see why they spend so much money on those things. When it comes down to it, standing there in the booth with a ballot in front of you, you feel nearly obligated to make some kind of mark. I suspect that's a nearly universal impulse. Similarly, seeing any kind of name you recognize is going to fill you with relief -- There! There's somebody I know! Of course, they could be a Satanist child molester whose most fervent desire is spending tax dollars on internment camps for non-white convenience store owners; you don't know. But still -- you recognize one name in a sea of strangers, that's where your vote goes.

On my other blog, before I split off the political stuff into this one, I voiced a desire for some kind of filter to be placed between the great unwashed electorate and the actual voting booth. Everyone should have a right to show they deserve to vote, is my feeling -- but letting anyone who is 18 years old and has a pulse actually fill out a ballot strikes me as madness. And it also strikes me as exactly the kind of madness that has led us to exactly where we are as a nation right now. When you let fools vote, the whole country gets fooled -- and when the country is America, the whole world pays for it.

My notion was a test. My small but very smart group of regular commenters came back promptly with the suggestion that the test be very similar to the one that those not lucky enough to be born here have to take to become U.S. citizens. That strikes me as having a certain appropriateness to it -- why should we get to take our vote for granted, simply because we got lucky in the birthplace lottery? Why shouldn't we have to earn our citizenship, at least in one regard, every couple of years? And why shouldn't we have to do it the same way the rest of the world does, when they decide they want to?

Unlike most others who want to impose some kind of voter's registration test, I do not hesitate to hold myself up as an example of why we need it. I put a mark next to a great many names I knew absolutely nothing about this morning, and that makes me a part of the problem, not part of the solution. Voting in ignorance is probably worse than not voting at all, and both are certainly much worse than voting with some actual knowledge of what one is voting on.

If I had to study to pass a voter registration test every two years, I presume, if the test is set up correctly, that I'm going to know something about the candidates on the ballot, before I actually step up to it.

And that, as Robert Frost might say, would make the difference.


At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Always Esteemed Scott said...

You know something funny? I have never voted in a U.S election.

I'm a U.S citizen, but I left the country at 17, and to be honest I'm not sure if I'm even eligible to vote in the U.S.

However, since I've had my Canadian citizenship, I've voted in several elections here, and from what I can tell, the way that Canadians run their elections is *vastly* superior to the American one.

Part of it is the Parliamentary system, which means that you technically vote for a party, not a person, (although in practice, it doesn't really work that way; peoples' voting choices are quite often determined by who the leader of a particular party is) - the leader of the party with the most votes becomes Prime Minister and gets to run the country.

What this means is that Canadians don't vote for the Prime Minister -they only vote for their local member of parliament. There is only one House of Parliament, not two (well, technically there is a Senate, but Senators are appointed, not elected) and, since judges at all levels are appointed, not elected, it means fewer names on the ballot.

Along with that, there is the fact that federal, provincial and municipal elections are all held at different times (and it's not predictable either - the majority party can call an election whenever they like; a minority government will only stay in power as long as they have the cooperation of the other parties in the House).

So, for example, for a federal election, the *only* person you are voting for is your local Member of Parliament (MP). That means, even counting fringe parties, that as a voter you only have at most 7 or 8 names on a ballot for one position. That's it. That makes it a lot easier to be informed about who you are voting for.

It's a little more complicated at the municipal level, where there are no party affiliations, and more people to vote for - mayor, councillor, and school board rep., but again, it's still only 3 people to choose at any given time.

And finally, we use paper ballots. You go into a polling place, you get your piece of paper with your choices for whatever election is being held, you put your "X" in the appropriate space, and you're done. It takes about 30 seconds to vote in most elections in this country, and we've never, to my knowledge, and anything like the kinds of scandals or vote questions that have been seen in the U.S recently.

Of course, we don't have anything like the modern Republican party in Canada either. At least, not yet.

Any how, good on you for voting. I find myself, like you, extremely sceptical that the Repubs will allow any significant Democrat gains, but I still can't help but be a little bit hopeful that somehow, the better guys win.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

The voting test idea sounds familiar ;)...or we were all on the same wavelength at the same time....

I don't quite understand how a vote for my state senator is a vote against Karl Rove, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Ironically, Opus, I had a similar conversation with my favorite conservative architect around here this morning. He asked me if I'd been to vote yet. I affirmed, adding that somebody had to go counter HIS vote. Then he got this look (and I don't think it had anything to do with coffee withdrawal, either) and said "well you DID vote for Anne Northup (our republican incumbent congresswoman), didn't you??? When I said "Nope", he said "ARE YOU SERIOUS??? DO YOU KNOW WHAT SHE'S DONE FOR OUR COMMUNITY??" The thing is, I do know. And she has done some good things. But there's a much bigger picture, that I don't think ANYONE can ignore any longer.

When the entire congress and the white house don't have any system of checks and balances anymore, you have a system being run by absolute power. The republican party doesn't speak for everyone (certainly not for me), and I'd feel the same way if the dems had control (okay, maybe I need to see that in action to know definitively...but I'm pretty sure). Absolute power corrupts absolutely and I don't think there's ANYONE in world right now that can't see that's where we are.

The only way to get a handle on it is to take back congress in these mid-terms. At least one house. It won't matter that our local congresswoman has helped get funding for the two new bridges to Indiana or anything else. If we can't look at the global impact of our current political situation, our communities won't matter a whit.

I didn't vote the straight democratic ballot, either. And while I've got more familiarity with the local players, I feel badly that I didn't take H by the hand a little more. I like voting for the County Clerks and the County Coroner's and the Sheriffs and the school board, and the family court judges and the dog catcher. I really do.

Oh, and for the record, we walked to the polls (in the rain) and the round trip was 10 minutes, so it really didn't take us much time either.

Sorry for being so rambly.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger MJ Norton said...

What I've found helpful when it came to some of the other positions - particularly judgeships, when they come up for a vote - where I found myself unfamiliar with anyone's record is to look at the handouts the party operatives outside the polling place handed to me on the way in. The GOP organization in particular is very helpful in endorsing their candidates, and if I know nothing else about them then that's enough for me to vote for the others.

That said, I do try to get a complete list of the candidates and referenda up for ballot and learn what I can about them before casting a vote.

As for Opus' comment about not knowing how a vote for her senator (presumably a Democrat, Green, Libertarian or Independent) is a vote against Karl Rove... I was confused. When I first read it I thought she'd written "governor", which would have been more understandable. Considering how central to the Bush administration's win - which also includes controlling as much else of the government as is possible - has been dependent upon Rove's strategies, the connection seems obvious.

Granted, there's a valid mindset that would place what a senator has done for his state should take precedence over all other considerations, but when I look at the current GOP's moves for the nation on the world stage and with respect to federal programs, the dismantling of social security & most elements of a social safety net, and the pit of debt future generations are being left with (which will, in turn, be used as an excuse to make additional social cuts) I have to focus on what a senator does at the federal level more than simply looking at what pork he can score for his state. The pork barrel part comes along naturally enough no matter which party a senator belongs to as part of the back-scratching in Washington.

Then I read today's Rooting For Gargamel piece, saw this was New York, and now I understand that it's a messy situation.

If there's one lesson to take away from all this, it's that we will likely all be better off the sooner we can get back to voting for someone instead of repeatedly being driven by fear and loathing into voting against someone else.


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