Once again, I was pondering the question of why people don’t vote. And suddenly it occurred to me that people equate voting with that other thing that we all hate: tests. I bet they look at that ballot with the little bubbles next to the candidates’ names and it makes them think of every test they ever took in school. And they break out into a cold sweat. No wonder people stay home on Election Day.
Here’s what I imagine people envision when they picture the voting experience:
First you have to study: Just like you were supposed go to class every day, you’re supposed to attend every campaign event held by each of the candidates during the long campaign season. And just like you were supposed to read the assignments and do your homework, you’re supposed to read every article and watch every news story and memorize all of the campaign literature that comes in the mail. You’re supposed to carefully watch the debates and take notes. Then at the end of the long season comes the test: You walk into the voting booth with your Scantron card and your No. 2 pencil and armed with nothing but the information you have painstakingly memorized throughout the course of the campaign, you bubble in the right answers.
When you’ve finished, you smile confidently at the polling place volunteer (who looks suspiciously like your 7th grade history teacher), slide your ballot into the plastic box and head out the door. On your way out you happen to meet your know-it-all neighbor. Proud of how well you prepared, you think, “I’ve got him this year.” So you saunter up and say “Hi Biff . . . how did you vote on Proposition 369?” Hesitantly he answers “I voted Yes.” “Tsk, tsk tsk,” you shake your head. “You should have voted No. The League of Worthwhile Voters came out against it just last night. I guess you missed that!” He smacks his forehead with the heel of his hand and stammers “I – I – I was going to vote No, but at the last second I decided to mark Yes.” Booyah! You throw your fist into the air. You’re the smartest voter in the precinct!
That’s how you want it to go.
But you know it’s not going to be that way this year, because just like last year, you didn’t study. You didn’t go to any of the campaign events, you didn’t follow the news or read the literature, and you didn’t watch the debates. You meant to, but you were just too busy. And you remember all too well how it went that year you turned 18. You were so excited when you first registered to vote. You had every intention of being an A+ Citizen, but when you walked up to that little boothy-desk thing, slid the curtain closed behind you and opened that ballot: Ugh. You didn’t know a single answer on the whole ballot. You didn’t recognize one candidate and you couldn’t recite the text of any of the propositions. So lamely you wrote-in the one name you remembered: George Washington – that sounded familiar. You slipped your ballot into the little box and slunk out the door.
Well, you’re never going to go through that humiliation again! So again this year on election day, you’ll fake a stomach ache, pull the covers up over your head, roll over and go back to sleep.
Well, I have some good news for you: VOTING ISN’T A TEST! It’s not an exam of what you learned during the campaign or of how well you paid attention during the season. You aren’t expected to have learned everything you need to know by watching the news, reading the ads or attending campaign events.
Wouldn’t it have been great if school had been like this: voting is totally open-book, and you can Google all of the answers ahead of time. You can even bring your notes right into the voting booth with you. None of that is cheating!
Voting isn’t a solitary endeavor either. It’s not a science fair project where you are expected to do all of the complicated research yourself and draw your own conclusions. It’s okay to look to others for their opinions and advice. It’s perfectly fine to search out and rely on information from organizations who sift out the truth from the campaign rhetoric. Just make sure that those organizations are trustworthy and use good solid facts to make their assessments.
And frankly, you shouldn’t be paying attention to most of the campaign garbage anyway. The ads, campaign literature (please just pitch those!), rallies, yard signs, and even the majority of TV news stories are skewed and misleading and are really not to be relied upon for making your decision at the polls. Even debates are pretty dubious these days.
Voting was always a collective effort when I was growing up. I remember my parents discussing the different candidates and issues as they filled out their sample ballot and paged through the voter information guide. It took work and thought, especially back then. But the internet makes everything easy now, and you can put it off until practically the last minute.
Here’s how we vote in my family today:
We sit around the dinner table with our sample ballots or voter’s guides and our phones or laptops. We go through each of the candidates and each of the ballot measures. We talk about what we know and we Google the rest. There are plenty of times when I don’t know anything at all about candidates or particular issues. We don’t refer to any of the stuff that comes in the mail and we almost never look at the candidates’ websites. We read information from reliable sources and organizations we trust. They’ve done most of the hard work already. We generally come to a consensus, and often we all vote the same way. But we have differences of opinions, too. And in the end, it’s a personal choice.
Of course, we don’t really “sit around the dinner table.” We aren’t even necessarily all in the same room or even in the same house anymore. Sometimes we do it all over the phone or even via texts. And sometimes it takes place over the course of several days.
We mark our sample ballot or voter’s guide which we take into the voting booth and use that info to mark our official ballots. The “test” is as easy as 1-2-3. We’re all A+ Citizens! You can be too.
- It’s not a test
- Don’t worry that you didn’t learn anything during the campaign
- Use all the resources available to you — that’s not cheating
- Use reliable sources
- It can be a group effort
- Ads and campaign literature are useless and misleading
You don’t get a grade, but you do get the satisfaction of knowing that you helped strengthen our democracy.
And the best part: you get a participation sticker just for showing up!
This year, don’t stay home on Election Day. ‘Cause that would be a great big fail.