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Cast Your Ballot

July 30, 2010

"The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age."
-Excerpt from the 26th Amendment to the United State Constitution

I'm a big believer in the importance of voting. There are plenty of young people who don't bother to vote, believing that their one ballot is immaterial to the outcome of a given election. That line of thought has always bothered me, since it leads to a system like we have now where the opinions, thoughts, and views of young adults aren't given equal weight to those of groups (like the elderly) that tend to vote en masse.

But the world of politics is well aware of the voting habits of various age groups, which is why an organization like the AARP can scare the hell out of politicians. Meanwhile, 18-20 year olds have all sorts of age-related restrictions placed on them (varying from state to state), which is ironic since it was an outcry in the Vietnam Era that lead to the 26th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution being ratified in 1971 to ensure that every American citizen age 18 and older (who is not a convicted felon) can vote. It's not just the under 21 crowd that suffers; there's a reason that age discrimination is against the law only against those age 40 and older. As always, there is strength in numbers.

Whatever the general mindset of those in the younger demographics might be, I have always taken pride in voting and in making sure that my voice is heard. And, from living in a variety of states, I have seen a wide range of systems, ranging from antiquated to intelligent. After the 2000 Presidential election debacle in Florida, states in general have made a move toward having more advanced voting systems put into place. As usual, it took a disaster to bring about change, though things are far from perfect even almost 10 years after the "hanging chad" insanity from the Sunshine State.

Ironically, it's Florida where I had the most positive voting experiences, in part because state law there allows for any eligible voter to vote by mail. You have to pay for the postage, but it is much quicker that going to a polling location and the postage is, at worst, a wash compared with the money you have to spend on gasoline to get you to/from the voting location.

Sadly, the state of Tennessee is not as advanced as Florida in that regard, and if you aren't out of state you still have to cast your ballot the old-fashioned way. This means lots of waiting in line for many elections, including early voting locations that are designed to allow for more flexibility for those wanting to vote who might be unable to make it to their designated voting location on election day. To point, I had to wait about an hour to cast my vote in the 2008 Presidential general election.

One day there will be online voting, and I suspect at that point the balance of power will balance somewhat. It's a pain in the ass to go out in the middle of the day and vote, though early voting does help to some degree as far as schedule flexibility goes. But with so much fear (rightfully so) about the potential for tampering with online voting, movement toward that has been glacially slow.

Yesterday I cast my ballot for the 2010 Tennessee primary election. It took me about 15 minutes to drive to my designated voting spot, a church near the dying shell of a shopping center that is Hickory Hollow Mall. Tacky signs adorned the entrances to the church parking lot, providing a sea of names and claims and promises.

I know first-hand how much work goes into even the smallest of elections from the work I did as the assistant campaign manager for Bubba the Love Sponge when he ran for sheriff of Pinellas County, FL in 2004. It's a colossal effort to put campaign signs up (even if they are tacky), let alone handle all of the various challenges that are inherent to running a campaign. I couldn't imagine the time and money and organization required to run a top-level state-wide election effort.

The church parking lot had plenty of good spaces still available, which was a positive indication as to what kind of wait I had in store. Once inside the church I found myself among a gaggle of mostly elderly women who were talking to one another near the check-in spot. They all gave a big friendly hello, living up to every stereotype about southern hospitality you could imagine.

One of the women beckoned me over to her check in spot, and she then look at my driver's license to be sure I was who I said I was. That is understandable, though I could have sent any male over there with my voting card to vote for me if I had so desired; the system isn't exactly perfect. But it's better than what I found ten years ago when I voted for the first time as a resident of the state of West Virginia and they didn't require identification of any kind.

The worker checking me in thanked me for coming in to vote, then put my name into the system and printed out a piece of paper that I had to sign twice. She was friendly but worked at a snail's pace, though it's not like that was a large line waiting impatiently behind me. There was only one other person there to vote when I arrived, and she was chatting with a friend of hers who was working there. It wasn't an intentional slow roll, but no one there appeared to be in any hurry to do anything.

Once I had signed the forms and told the woman which party primary side I was voting on (I had to tell her three times since she was aparently hard of hearing), I was directed over in the general direction of the voting machines. There another elderly woman was waiting to direct me to the machine that I would get to use. Much like the check in, this took about twice as long as it should have.

There was a slightly condescending edge to the whole thing, kind of like when you call the customer service department of places like Comcast to Dell and they talk down to you since they are used to dealing with complete technophobes calling in with problems. But the voting itself was simple, with the push button system working as it should. Since I did my homework and brought my voting sheet with me, it took less time to actually cast my vote than it did to check in to vote.

Once I locked in my vote by hitting the humorously bright red blinking button that said VOTE, I walked back in the direction I had taken to enter. At that point I was given one of those "I Voted" stickers, which for some reason amuse me. When I got home I stuck it on the refrigerator next to the "No Pickles" sticker that I put up many months ago from Chick-Fil-A.

This Tuesday I'll find out if the candidates I voted for won. And, barring something unforeseen, I'll be voting in a few months in the November general election. Hopefully I'll find another short line at the early voting location, though I'm not particularly counting on it.

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