Friday, September 12, 2008

Voting "No" on Absentee Ballot

The only thing more depressing than receiving a registration form for an absentee voting ballot must be receiving your first AARP card. "There must be some mistake," you say to yourself in disbelief. "I'm too young and healthy for this."

It turns out the folks in Ohio don't think I'm too old or frail to vote in person; they've sent out hundreds of thousands of mail-in registration forms across the state in the hopes of cutting down on long lines at the polls on Election Day. Voter convenience is cited as one of the reasons for the push to have citizens mail in their ballots.

I'm a little leery about this. Why is everyone so concerned about my convenience all of a sudden? Many a time I've stood in long voting lines, enduring heavy rain or snow as I waited to get inside, then watched as someone worked painfully slowly on fixing voter machines that were down and eventually stared longingly at the baked goods table while cursing myself for not bringing money with me.

No one seemed to feel bad for me then. What's with all the concern this time around?

Well, it might not be all about what's most convenient for me and other Ohio voters. This state has been plagued with controversy over its voting procedures for several years. The electronic voting system the state introduced a while back was fraught with problems. In other instances, voters in some urban areas of Cuyahoga County complained that long lines close to the time that polls were closing prevented them from casting their votes. Ohio recently switched back to paper ballots, but that came with its own set of woes.

So the best thing for all of us to do, it seems, is to stay home on Election Day--stay far away from the polling place. Help cut down on voting controversies. Do your patriotic duty and mail in your ballot!

I hate to disappoint you guys over there in election land, but I'm not biting. On Election Day, I'm walking down the street to my polling place--whether it's sunny, raining or snowing--and standing in line--no matter how long that line is--to patiently and patriotically cast my vote.

Why? Because it's the American way!

Part of the beauty of our election process is that we are able to make a supreme effort and sacrifice to get out and vote. We leave 20 minutes early for work, give up our lunch break, drop our kids at a babysitter's house or forsake dinner to stand in line with other fellow Americans. 

And when we finally get to pull that lever, touch that electronic pad or pop out that chad, we are realizing the brilliance and awe of living in a free society.

Where's the rush of patriotism when voting by mail? You don't even get the satisfaction of putting a stamp on the envelope! The state of Ohio has already done that for you.

Sure, it may be hassle-free, but what's life without a little hassle? It can actually make voting in person that much more memorable. In fact, I can recall the last several elections as if they took place yesterday.

On Election Day in 2000, I stood in an incredibly long line while balancing an infant carrier from one hand to the other. People walked by and admired my little one as I read up on the issues in the hopes of making the best possible (albeit last-minute) decisions.

Two years ago, I stood in what seemed to be a line to nowhere.  The voting equipment was down, and no one knew exactly whom to seek for advice. I could have gotten upset, but instead I saw it as a chance to chat with those around me. I started talking with a woman who, it turned out, lived just a few doors down from me. We never crossed paths until that day. If I had voted by mail, I still wouldn't know her from Adam.

I'm not saying voting by mail is all that bad. I have the luxury of being able to vote in the middle of the day and wait for as long as necessary until it's my turn. There are people whose jobs or other activities prevent them from getting to the polls. So more power to you if voting by mail allows you to have your voice heard. Go for it!

I'll admit, though, that absentee voting scares me just a tad more than voting in person. All sorts of things could happen to my precious votes.

What if my ballot gets lost in the mail? 

What if the person counting the absentee votes opens up my ballot, leaves to get a cup of coffee and then a strong wind blows into the room and my ballot flies into the trash can? It can happen, you know.

What if while ballots are being opened, a curious child walks by with a Number 2 pencil and playfully fills in lots of circles on mine? I shudder to think about that!

No, it's safer for me to take my votes straight to the polling place. While I'm there, I may meet some interesting people. I'll get to put one of those nice "I voted today" stickers on my sweater. And I'll feel a sense of communal pride. I just have to remember to bring some money for the baked goods table, and I'll be all set.

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