I remember voting for the first time. It was the fall of my freshmen year in college, 1992, and I went home to vote in my first election– a presidential election (B. Clinton vs. Bush I) that would come to unseat a sitting president. Standing in that line of voters– there were so many of them– in my elementary school’s cafeteria was such an overwhelming feeling. Watching all these people who had stopped whatever else was going on in their lives to go out and vote choked me up. In my booth, pulling my curtain shut, I stared at the machine in front of me, with it’s gigantic posting of the ballot, and I shed a tear.
At the time, I thought I was well on my way to being a high school English teacher. Maybe it is no surprise that I ended up being a World History and United States History teacher, a look at the blemishes and critique them sort of teacher, but a teacher who also thought that the very exercise of being able to look at mistakes and consider them was the sheer joy of being in this country. Every year since, no matter what the initiative on the ballot, I proudly do my homework, studying candidates and issues, coming up with acronyms to remember how I want to vote when the ballots are particularly long (3 at-large school board members, 1 district school board member, a sheriff, mayor, 5 judges, and 5 town commissioners was just the beginning of a ballot not too long ago). At 18, I registered to vote as an independent. It is one of the clearest decisions I had made by that age. I wanted to never have an easy way out with my vote. I wanted to always do my homework, to not be surprised by a candidate’s stance or character once he or she took office if there was a way to have known that stance or character earlier. And I didn’t want to follow anyone’s party line.
Eight years ago, I sat up all night, watching the 2000 election returns, being called one way, being called the other and arriving at work the next morning, eyes bloodshot from exhaustion, to use my experience as a high school US history teacher to explain the inner workings of the electoral college system. If I could be given the gig of Election Reform Czar, I would be there in a skinny minute, turning the primary and delegate system for the party nomination and the electoral college systems on their head for the way they patronize the average person, the everyday American. But I digress. I am still a proud, proud voter. I am the type of person who deliberately doesn’t early vote. I want to be there in the crowd on election day, watching the young and the old, those who have felt disenfranchised their whole lives and those who have no awareness of just how “franchised” they are, stand in line, politely, waiting their turn to push a button or pull a lever or do whatever the magic happens to be in their state to vote. I still tear up every presidential election, at the sheer wonder of it all, and I still tear up when I consider those who do not vote, who do not feel that they should or would be counted if they made the effort to arrive at a polling place. Even now as I write, I am tearing. But this wasn’t meant to be a serious post so let me get on with it.
For the past two months, Gallup– the pollsters who take a pulse on what America is thinking about all sorts of different things– has been calling, and I always miss the call. I have never been polled. But the idea of being one in the number of people they talked to when they say ‘32% of Americans think…’ is really intoxicating to me. So, for the last two months, each time the phone has rung and I am able to get it, I dive for the phone, wanting it to be Gallup like I wanted it to be a certain football player back in high school (my high school friends are laughing now at the way that I used to be almost late to English class in my attempt to see the cute football player walk by my locker. Forget that he had NO IDEA that I existed– and still doesn’t– his walking by was plenty). And, finally, the other day, I answered the phone when Gallup called.
The North Carolina primary is May 7. I just knew they were calling to ask me about what was important to me as a voter, what I was thinking. I couldn’t wait to tell them because, ahem, I have done my homework. So when she started explaining what Gallup was and all that, I just wanted to scream, “I know, I know, I’ve been waiting for you,” but I am just barely a smidge cooler than that so I waited quietly through her intro. Then she said, “Today, we are calling on behalf of the US Mint with regard to coin collecting. Can I speak to the adult who has had the most recent birthday?” “He’s not here,” I said, crushed, and swallowed the words, “but I could talk to you about the election.”