Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I voted. I got a sticker.

Election day 2005: Although I have been old enough to vote for nearly 20 years, it was only last year I discovered the joy of voting in the morning. Prior to that I would vote in the evening after work, and although that allowed me the fun of picking candidates at random (given that by then the winner was already announced thanks to exit polls), it denied me the true joy of election day: Adulation from other people for no particularly good reason.

In those years, after making some effort to read the propositions and have some idea how I was going to vote on those, then going to the polling place, then patiently waiting for the nice elderly people behind the table to find my name on the list, then waiting for a booth to be available, then going through the ballot and punching the appropriate holes, it seemed like a little oval sticker that read "I Voted" was rather hollow recompense. Heck, some years they would be out of stickers. Sure, voting is a priviledge and all that, but given how low turnout tends to be, it seemed like the government could sweeten the deal just a bit. The sticker didn't even stick that well.

However, I didn't get it then, because after leaving the polling place (and never, ever, being asked how I voted in an exit poll) I took my little sticker (when I got one) and just... went home. As nice as home was, everyone there (if there was anyone there) pretty much expected me to vote. The sticker held no cache with them, because with them the act of voting was not special.

Then starting last year, when I voted in the morning (and hence had to actually vote semi-seriously--click here to see that entry), got my sticker, and wore it around the rest of the day where people (who didn't live with me) could see it. And therein I learned how many people out there--that I passed in the hall, that I saw in the break room, that I ran into as I was walking to lunch--were (let's call 'em) fans of the electoral process. There were several. More than a couple, at least. They said things like "Good for you" while pointing at the sticker. It took me a while to realize what they were referring to; all those years of not having the sticker had set in me an expected pattern--all day I had to fend them off with declarations of my intent to vote when I got home. And even then, I figured they only had interest in me because I was someone who could still vote the way they wanted to help the side they supported. But with the sticker partially adhered to my shirt today, like last November, they offered their vague praise, without the possibility of influencing my already-cast vote. It seemed so pure, so admirable, and (to the extent that politics is capable of this) so innocent, that even I could overlook my cynicism that told me it was most likely that they figured I voted their way.

I always wanted to believe that someday politics would do something for me, and now I know what that is: A few kind words from the people who aren't so jaded about politics. As long as I got the sticker.

I kind of feel sorry for those who voted absentee.

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