Don Rogers: Mailing it in
Have you voted yet? Me, neither.
I’m pretty sure now about my choices. Should just fill out the ballot and move on, I know. One more task done, a citizen’s fundamental duty fulfilled.
This mailing thing, though. I dunno. Am I the only one who liked standing in line on Election Day, chatting with neighbors I hadn’t seen since last Election Day, signing in, closing a curtain behind me and punching a ballot I dropped in a slot when done to earn my “I voted!” sticker?
We went the mailing way in Colorado awhile ago. Never failed that I’d wait to drop off my sealed envelope at the clerk-recorder’s office that last day, finally having filled in what I knew I would when my ballot arrived in the mail. No line, no chats, no ceremony. Not even a lousy sticker.
Maybe that’s it. The ritual. Mostly a bother, I know. In bigger cities I’ve gone an hour or more in a line snaking out the precinct door at a fire station, a community hall, a church and for a long time we lived where our voting location was the county building itself, a secular cathedral.
This was how we taught our wide-eyed children about citizenry, before they got bored and then restive beyond what a toy truck or doll could remedy. The pain, such as it was, was worth it for stepping up to our obligation. It felt important, almost holy, and we were there, enduring, to sanctify our identity as true Americans.
Voting, simply voting, made us special. That is, it’s what separated our country from others less fortunate in the ways of democracy or a democratic republic if you want to get all technical about it.
A hassle, sure. But mainly an honor.
Now it’s like paying another bill. Lick your stamp. Tomorrow we’ll just do it online like the rest. Might as well be the Russians choosing for us — directly, rather than fooling the Silent Generation once so afraid of Khrushchev’s old promise to take over America from within.
But this primary doesn’t loom quite so existential, even if actually more relevant to our daily lives than presidential elections.
It does have some extra spice for the first change in sheriffs since 1998. Nevada City’s council has a competitive election for the first time in a decade. And the district attorney’s race is running hot for what strikes me as ginned up “corruption” accusations that come to considerably less than meets the eye once you scan the underpinnings.
This is the silly season, after all, in the fully American tradition. Campaign rhetoric generally is overblown, wildly exaggerated. Incumbents can’t merely be disorganized; they must be incompetent AND evil to the bone, if you’re with the challenger. Or they’re the very paragons of virtue, regular Rushmores, unsurpassable in their diligence and wisdom, if you’re with the person holding the seat now. And so on.
Best to ignore the fuzz, the fizz, even whether you like this person, though no one does that, of course. I suppose we even count the yard signs for deeper meaning. Why else would we even have ’em, besides giving ardent campaigners something to do between stealing some and mostly accusing the dirty dogs on the other side of the deed?
Careful voters study the bio of each candidate, his or her history, previous relationship with the truth if such evidence exists, looking for clues of competency and virtue amid all the hype. They scrutinize the relevant statistics showing improvement or decline of the entity the candidate presumes to guide. They read every story, attend every forum, hold up door knockers until every question is answered. Then they make their careful choices.
Uh, huh. I’ve got a bridge to sell you, too.
The campaigns know this scholarly approach to voting just ain’t so. This is why no stone goes unturned, no lie left untold or goof exposed, no opportunity passed to harangue the editor as a co-conspirator for the other side for some imagined sin or another. Good lord.
Don’t these folks know the problem doesn’t lie in the nuances of what shows up in the paper, an election guide, the interminable candidate forums where the candidates each drone on and on with the same speech and answers as the last one, only occasionally enlivened with a reckless remark?
No the problem is suggested in why we’ve turned to voting by mail.
Almost no one shares my fussy nostalgia for forming in lines, getting our names checked and crossed off at a table before being handed a ballot, and ducking into the sanctity of a cubicle or a booth to do our solemn duty.
Not enough people eligible to vote do so, even here, just about the votiest place anywhere.
Too few of us bother. That’s the real problem, and it’s a deep one. I’m not sure mailing it in is the best solution for a responsibility inherently requiring some effort.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun, based in Truckee, and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.