Saturday, July 12, 2008

Democratic Duty

by Paul
I received my absentee ballot for the 5 Aug primary. I am registered to vote in Northfield Township, Michigan, and the clerk was nice enough to send me the materials early. Although I only lived in Northfield Township briefly, it was my last physical residence in Michigan when I left the state for active military duty so I legally vote there. Filling out the forms was a very bureaucratic affair that ended up taking me a few hours (which I don't really have) but, on the up side, got me thinking about voting and the political process we endure as Americans. When I was in Australia last year, the Aussies were shocked when I told them that our voter turnout is about 50 percent (depends how you gauge, of course, but roughly half is a fair generalization). And that only means half of those who are registered.  So I think the actual number of Americans who vote is probably something like a third or less (minus children, felons, those who aren't registered, etc.). Pretty sad commentary and a reminder that you live in a Republic and not a true democracy...which is of course by design and not necessarily a bad thing. Anyway, the Aussies have compulsory voting where they basically have no choice but to vote. For some interesting (and depressing) reading on where the US stacks up, look at this. I don't think this would be a good model for Americans; to mandate something like that would probably be construed as contrary to freedom. But I feel like those who fail to vote can't honestly complain, so I take my ballot very seriously and try to do my part.
The first thing I noticed when I opened the packet, and it could only be called a packet, was that the entire absentee ballot system is far more complicated than it really has to be. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but I had to stare at the instructions and scratch my head a bit...it was very frustrating and I realized something:
It's no wonder that so many people don't vote.
It's a confusing and painful process, and the absentee system is even more so. Just look at the series of instructions (three sets) and all that fine print. A second-grader could probably make clearer instructions. The second thing I noticed was on the ballot itself. Being a primary, you can't vote a "split" ticket, so you have to vote either entirely Democrat or Republican. As a military officer, I don't feel it's my place to discuss politics specifically so I won't divulge how I voted or why (it doesn't matter in the context of this narrative), but it was surprising to me that there were no other parties represented. Also, the graphic they use to label each column was interesting in that each depicted two former US Presidents. The Republican clip art showed Lincoln and Reagan, while the Democrat side had FDR and JFK. Lincoln is a no-brainer, but Reagan? Already? I would have had my money on Roosevelt or Ike...surprising that they are already holding the Gipper up as a personification of their party. Also interesting and maybe telling. Likewise, the Dem's use of FDR is a given, but JFK? Maybe Clinton is still considered too controversial and Truman may not have the recognition among the masses, but there were a slew of better Chiefs in the last century aside from JFK. I guess Jack is a symbol of the left like Reagan is a symbol of conservatism.
I started looking through the ballot, and since it's a local election I didn't know three quarters of the people. Aside from one congressman, I had little knowledge of the others, even if I did recognize the name. I moved to the ol' Internet to do some Googling and I had an epiphany:
Why can't voters take their ballot home? 
If I were at the polls in-person, I would have had to pick randomly, to be honest, and who are we kidding? I think most people do this. Using the net allowed me to research each candidate and pick who I really wanted to vote for...and that's based not just on what they said, but on news items, past entries, etc. Call it a Tom Friedman moment, but I was surprised how much technology influenced my votes this go-around. Most shocking, though, was the realization that so many people move around and campaign just to get elected to something. I found old sites of the same guy who was running for drain commissioner on the other side of the state (and lost) and is now running for sheriff in my precinct. Based on that, which I never would have known without researching it, which I probably wouldn't have done if I'd been home and voted in person, do I really think he has the best interests of his constituents in mind or is this a guy who just wants the "power" of a public office? Needless to say, when scenarios like that arose, the offender didn't get my vote.
The final shock came when I realized how many people were running unopposed for an office, either within their own party or totally unopposed from the other side as well.
Is it really a true Democratic Republic if there's one option for a given office?
Of course one could write-in a candidate but realistically that's a waste of ink, time, and thought. Another sad factor was the number of offices with no one at all runn
ing. Makes you wonder.I also noticed that the current clerk's name was printed on the mailing materials. This may be nit-picky, but I have to wonder how much money is wasted when/if that clerk is replaced. Many will remember when Michigan Secretary of State (I think it was Candice Miller) declined to have her name added to the storefront signage of SOS buildings. This simple, common sense gesture not only demonstrated humility, but it saved the state a boat load of money.
Hmmmm, saving money for the taxpayers. Now that's a mindset I could get behind.

1 comment:

lisa said...

Well said. We got our absentee ballots and both PC and I were confused as to what we were supposed to be doing.