Today I helped to save the world … or maybe ruin it. I did my “homework” for the 2012 election. I picked up the newspaper’s Sunday editorial section and found a link to a website where I read a short blurb on each candidate or issue and made a choice. At the end of the session, the computer gave me a printout of my selections to take to the voting booth. It took about an hour and a half.
It’s been drummed into me all my life that voting is my civic duty—and a privilege that citizens of many other countries can’t enjoy. Yes, I appreciate how awesome (in the original sense) it is to be an American. The problem is, though, I’ve never been into politics, especially these days when we so often have to pick the lesser of two evils. I’m not proud of that, but it’s how it is.
Even as a kid, I wanted nothing to do with elections. In eighth grade, my civics teacher said he’d dock my grade if I didn’t run for office. So I put my name in for class treasurer—at least I could handle math—and made some posters. Of course I didn’t win. I knew I’d never have to serve as treasurer. An eighth-grade election is a blatant popularity contest, and I wasn’t popular. I don’t think I even voted for myself.
Okay, now I know how I’m voting tomorrow. But … ninety minutes? How much could I learn in ninety minutes? What if my choices are wrong? Will I help to elect someone who’ll prolong war in Afghanistan, embezzle from my county, or cut off funding for a vital service?
I could have hung on every word of the debates. I could have checked facts and studied opposing viewpoints in the media. I could have followed issues over months and years. But I didn’t. It didn’t appeal to me. And how many others are like me, or worse? How many don’t even take the ninety minutes? How many will make a choice tomorrow because they always vote a straight ticket … or because their boss or their neighbor or their favorite movie star said to? How many will check a box because some ad agency came up with a clever TV commercial … or because they like the candidate with the Irish name or the sexy dimples?
Is this really what our founding fathers envisioned?
Maybe it’s my civic duty NOT to vote, at least not to vote in ignorance. There were a couple of races on my ballot where I couldn’t decide between two candidates, not on the information given online. I’m going to leave those blank. But I know most people won’t.
I asked a friend if he votes on every contest, and he said yes. “Well, how do you know?” I asked. “Sure, you know something about Obama vs. Romney. But what do you know about this judge, or that county commissioner?”
“It’s just one vote,” he replied. “My one vote isn’t that important.” Well, THAT doesn’t sound right.
Is our system broken? Is there a way to fix it? When I vote tomorrow, will I put a good person out of work and replace him with an incompetent?
The thought scares me. But I guess I’ll go, armed with my printout and my ninety minutes of research. After all, it’s my civic duty.