I stood in line to vote behind a 30-ish couple who appeared to be on a first date, judging by the small talk: “I’m more of a dog person.” “Middle children, yeah! High five!” “I’ve never seen a baby pelican either! Weird!”
I didn’t want to eavesdrop, but she had a tag sticking up from the back of her shirt and I’ve always found that to be really distracting. When is it OK to tell a stranger her tag’s up? To me it’s like a little flag that says, “Help! I have trouble with details!” Can’t I just reach out and ...
“So how do you pick your peeps?” she asked. A cagey way to get some insight into his politics, I thought.
“Throw the bums out. Fresh start.”
“Really? Your plan is to just keep voting in new people until somebody comes along who solves everything in a few years with some sort of totalitarian powers and unicorns that poop money?”
Damn, tough date! He backpedalled: “In reality, I just go with the guys who seem most like me.”
“So, someone like you would make a good politician?”
“Oh hell no.”
Her look said, “And therefore ...?”
He said, “But I’d be happy to get in there to vote on the 420 stuff.”
Date over. Uncomfortable silence.
“Hey,” I said. “Your tag is up.”
This was the election that would bring Dubya a second term and thereby compel me to look at voting Americans in a whole new light. The kind of light they shine on hotel room bedspreads to reveal scary stains.
I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t always pulled my weight, citizen-wise. I have a terrible voting record. Judging by the low voter turnout numbers over the years, most of us do. I looked up my history (as anybody in the county can, at the characteristically unfriendly government URL of http://sccounty01.co.santa-cruz.ca.us/CLK/EIMSLtd/), and saw not only my poor record, but the poor record of some of my friends who always berate me for failing to vote. Ha! Gotcha. I suspect they’ve been using the same smug “I voted” sticker for years. No wonder they were laminated.
Voting is easy. Voting well is not. A lot of money, and I mean a lot of money, is spent spinning information to get us voting a particular way. That money buys a lot of votes through advertisements and media manipulation and fact distortion. Heck, if you had enough money, you could get people to vote against oxygen (“It makes your car rust!” “It’s a major contributor to fires that kill children! And kittens!” “There was oxygen present at every terrorist event of the past 40 years.” “Hitler used it!”).
High-priced companies are hired to run polls to figure out what pushes our emotional buttons, and then they push them. They are not dumb. They know that it’s easier to tear down the opposition than to build their own argument, because who or what is perfect? They chuckle and twist their long moustaches as they place ads in New Parent magazine that say, “We all know that breast milk helps children develop physically and mentally. Sadly, John Kenner’s mother refused to nurse him. Is this the sort of man we want in our state senate?”
Oh hell no.
Since these companies rely on polls to guide their moves, I think we can bring the system to its knees if we all band together to do one simple thing: Lie to the pollsters. If they call you at home or accost you outside your local market, just smile and answer all the questions, but answer them randomly. Have some fun with it—claim you’re voting alphabetically, or astrologically. Say you’ll vote for the person with the biggest hair.
When I don’t vote, it’s usually because I’ve been too lazy to do research. They spell it out in high school, but everybody forgets: Vote as if you were the tie-breaker. Review candidates like you would an applicant to any other job: weigh their qualifications and experience and track record against the requirements of the position. As long as the winner doesn’t have a tag sticking up, that’s who you vote for. Sure it’s a lot of work, but if you like complaining or saying “I told you so,” voting is the price you pay for that privilege.
It can be overwhelming, with so many things on the ballot, but a friend recently reminded me that I didn’t have to vote on everything. I can pick and choose. Even if I only get as far as deciding how to vote on Measure X (which taxes panhandlers to fund a study determining whether there is a link between slow local restaurant service and recent stabbings), so be it.
I still get my sticker.
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