My state’s primary elections took place today and it was a big deal. Probably not so much for everyone else, mind you, but today marked a milestone moment for me. When the election volunteer asked me which party’s ballot I wanted this morning, for the first time in thirty years–three decades!–I gave a different answer than I ever have. The world may not have cracked in two, but I felt a fissure in my soul. (Side note: I’m not going to open a party debate here, friends, so don’t even try. The point is my change itself, not the why.)
This one, short encounter stirred up so many issues for me that I hardly know where to start, the party issue notwithstanding. But here I go, of course. I don’t have the answers, so consider this food for thought.
First of all, why do we have to have party-specific primaries? I have never in my life voted a straight ticket in a general election, so why should I have to in a primary? I understand that in our two-party system this may have arguable merits. Then again, why are we stuck in a two-party system when, in this country of 300+ million people, it is nearly impossible to align the spread of everyone’s views into two neat columns?
On a peripheral note, the poll worker asked me out loud in an open room which ballot I wanted. That kind of defeats the purpose of a secret ballot, don’t you think? Everything else I needed to do this morning took place on an iPad–scanning my ID, verifying my address, signing in–so why couldn’t there have been a check box on the electronic form that didn’t force me to announce my choice to the room at large? (In the interest of full disclosure, by the time I arrived at my polling place, I had already seen an online post from a friend that read, “A pin could drop in here and the intake process requires you to designate your political party out loud in front of everyone. Our system is hilarious.” I was already stewing about this when I arrived.)
And my polling place was in a church. That in itself actually does not offend me; there was no proselytizing, no overt or covert pressure–it was just a big building with enough room for a lot of people, whose caretakers had graciously offered its use to the government. As I thought about it, though, I wondered whether synagogues and mosques were also being used similarly, so I looked it up. It seems as though synagogues may be more widely used than mosques, but there are a handful of the latter designated as polling places sprinkled around the country. Still, something feels off. (I found this interesting article from the Orlando Sentinel in my queries.) There is definitely a level of discomfort associated with using particular types of religious gathering places as polling sites. I say make it all or none.
That brings me to another point. Why do we vote on Tuesdays? Okay, so we’ve started to offer some early voting opportunities, but jeez-Louise, why do we make this so hard? People work, for Pete’s sake. Kids need to be hauled to school, to practice, to appointments. Finding time to squeeze in a vote isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Other countries designate a weekend day; we could do the same. Yes, I know people also work on the weekends, but we could keep the polls open for the full 24 hours of the day. And oh, since schools are closed on weekends, we could use those great big public buildings as polling places and eliminate the house-of-worship issue. Just a thought.
All that said, I feel passionately that it is my right and privilege to vote. My government has given me a voice, and by golly, I’m going to use it. I haven’t missed too many elections since I became of legal age to cast my ballot, and I don’t plan to in the future. For years I went at 6am so I could take my kids with me before school started. They asked more, deeper questions every year, and I’m pretty sure everyone around me in line got an unintentional civics lesson those days. Flawed as it is, I believe in democracy (technically a republic, but that’s splitting hairs).
If you’ve got the chance, go vote. Add your voice to the rising chorus of this country. Hopefully someday soon we’ll find a beautiful harmony.