Today, I voted in my first federal election. In 2008, I was unfortunately still 17, and since then, I’ve been voting in state and local elections (via absentee ballot) for my district in New Jersey.
This fall, I registered to vote in California at the DMV, and then requested a mail-in ballot in an effort to avoid lines like the ones that I’d just experienced at the Glendale DMV.
We (as a nation, and as a class) have spent a lot of energy considering how voting should actually take place: with the growing ‘popularity’ of Voter ID laws, the right to an unobstructed vote has become a critical issue.
Demographically speaking, it was highly likely that I would cast a vote in this election with relative ease. I’m a white female, soon to graduate college, from an upper-middle class background. Both of my parents completed graduate school, and placed a great deal of importance on political values and exercising their right to vote. I am not handicapped, and I am not a felon. The only factor that might have hindered my likeliness to register and vote is my age. However, the US Census shows that females of my age group and ‘educational attainment’ voted at a rate of 69.1 percent in the November 2008 election; compare to the total eligible population’s voting rate of 64 percent. Essentially – I, as a part of my demographic, am very likely to vote – and theoretically, as a senior Politics major at a well-respected university, I should be able to navigate a ballot and all the issues on it fairly easily. As you will soon see, this was not exactly the case.
It’s here! It’s here!
A secrecy sleeve? Ok..
Ok, I was prepared for the State Measures: but what are these ‘County Measures’??
And who are these people?! From zero to sixty, I have gone from super-excited new voter to completely panicked.
I want to add number ten on the Earthquake Survival Guide to number one on the Voter Instruction Guide.
Ok – there are instructions. That’s nice.
So, as it turned out (for me, at least), voting with this ballot was a three-step process.
1. Figure out who and what to vote for. I did much of this step few weeks ago – I researched the candidates that I didn’t know much about, but mostly, I scrutinized the funding sources (main organizations and individuals) of each of the State Measures (provided by the Los Angeles Times website). The transparency of the funding for each initiative allowed me to cast my vote alongside the organizations and causes that I already ideologically support. After looking over all the information, I figured out which way I’d vote on each measure. However, there were so many that I actually made a note that day, listing my choices, so I could refer to it when it came time to vote:
I have to say – this note was incredibly helpful today, and saved me a lot of time. (PS. Fellow California voters! If you voted differently from me on any of the measures, I’d love to hear why! Leave them in the comments!)
As you saw above, I wasn’t prepared with my choice for County District Attorney or the three County Measures. So, I had to do a little research on the fly. Who are you, Alan Jackson and Jackie Lacey? ,
Jackie Lacey’s official endorsements went on for several more iPhone pages. I read through the list (which included politicians, media groups, and organizations of diverse ideologies), but my choice was pretty clear once I saw the endorsement of the organization I worked for this semester. Sorry Alan, but I vote Jackie for DA.
Now, I had to decide on the County Measures: A, B, and J(?). Fortunately, the County Measures were more simply worded and generally more straightforward than the State Measures. One of the photos above shows the text of Measure A (election vs. appointment for the County Assessor); B would require condom use in porn, and J would confirm a .5 percent sales tax increase for public transportation.
For me, these weren’t difficult choices to make, but I thought I’d do some research in case I was missing something.
I was very interested to see that the Los Angeles Times explicitly endorses voting No on Measure B: “Measure B is well intentioned, but it is likely to stymie county government and bring little benefit to performers. The Times recommends a no vote,”. Feel free to read their full reasoning here.
Sorry, LA Times, but I believe that protection from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases would bring more than just a ‘little benefit to performers’. I decided to vote No on A (to keep the County Assessor office elected rather than appointed), Yes on B, and Yes on J.
All done, right? Actually, no.
At this point, I was only finished with step one.
2. Carefully mark your decisions on your voting guide, which corresponds with the numbered bubbles on the actual ballot.
As you can see on the very right edge of the photo, I marked the decisions I’d made on each candidate and measure.
3. Finally, get out your scantron-esque ballot, and fill in the appropriate bubbles.
This brought me right back to the good old days of senior year in high school, chock-full of AP Tests, SAT IIs, and the all-important SAT.
Resisting the urge to write in ‘President: Bill Clinton’, I tucked my completed ballot into its very special ‘secrecy sleeve’. Now all I had to do was seal the envelope and send it off, right? Wrong.
The instructions on the back of the envelope insisted that I mail it to the address (at the top of the photo above) in Norwalk.
The front of the envelope was pre-printed with a different address. Cue panic.
I finally decided to obey the front of the envelope.
I then brilliantly forgot that it is now November, not October…
But this story has a very happy ending:
I voted in my very first federal election!
All jokes and minor panic attacks aside: this process was significantly more difficult than I had anticipated.
I’m not suggesting, in any way, that voting should be a mindless process. It should require a significant amount of thought, consideration, and perhaps research on the part of the voter. However – considering that I am literally taking a course on elections, it worries me that exercising my right to vote today was a bit complicated. What does it say about our voting process when a Politics student from a high-voting demographic runs into complications casting her vote?
I am not the average eligible California voter. I’m incredibly lucky to have access to information at my fingertips, as well as the time and energy to research candidates and issues. I have a background knowledge of politics from my parents and my public and private education. After voting today, I feel excited and empowered – but also concerned.
What about the single parent who works two jobs and simply doesn’t have the time or energy required to vote?
What about the voter who receives his ballot in Tagalog, but cannot access information about the issues at hand because it’s all provided in English?
Aren’t these the voices that must be heard?