The general interest (or lack thereof) in any particular election makes no difference to me. I always vote. Some might say my bothering to fill in the circle for James Hahn in the Los Angeles mayor’s race was a waste of time, since Antonio Villaraigosa won by a landslide, but I don’t think so. Like they say, you have the right to vote; you don’t have the right to see the candidate of your choice elected.
I don’t suppose there’s really a huge difference between Hahn and Villaraigosa, other than the ethnic-pride factor of Villaraigosa’s being L.A.’s first Latino mayor in more than 100 years. Hearing Richard Riordan say on the radio during the campaign that Villaraigosa can make your “hopes and dreams come true” did strike me as fairly nauseating–since when is it a city official’s job to make your hopes and dreams come true? What is he, Santa Claus?–but as political columnist Jill Stewart said the other day when I started to rail about this, “those ads aren’t aimed at people like you.”
But here’s what did annoy me about this election.
Now, I admire those fine citizen volunteers who man the voting booths on Election Day–I really do–but there was one woman at my polling place who seemed almost maniacally enthusiastic about encouraging the youth vote. “And here’s your ballot,” she said to my daughter, who happened to be with me.
“Oh, thanks, but I’m not 18, I can’t vote yet,” Maia said.
“Yes you can!” the woman insisted. “And you need the practice, because this is the new type of ballot now! No more chads!” I glanced at the “ballot” and saw it was one of those fake things pollworkers sometimes hand to small children: The “candidates” were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the “proposition” was should Valentine’s Day should be a federal holiday.
Cute for a six-year-old, not for a 16-year-old, but I guess some adults don’t see the difference. And what teenager needs practice filling in circles on paper anyway? These days they spend practically their whole lives doing that.
I should explain at this point that my daughter needs no encouragement to be interested in political campaigns. Last summer we happened to be in Toronto visiting family during the Canadian election, which although expected to be close, turned out to be a pretty big win for the Liberals even if they did lose their majority.
The morning after the election, Maia (who’d become bizarrely fascinated with the campaign) sat in a café grimly reading the newspaper, her hand resting on the word “Liberal” in the headline. A man came over and asked if she was covering up the word because she was disappointed. Evidently he was curious about a teenager scowling over election results.
“So my wife and I were wondering,” he added, “did you vote Conservative?”
“Yes, and I am disappointed,” Maia said.
I asked later why she didn’t just tell the truth–that she didn’t vote for the Canadian Conservative party because (a) she’s a U.S. citizen, and (b) she was just 15 years old. “There’s such a thing as voting mentally, Mom,” she said.
All those do-gooders who rally around the get-out-the-youth-vote flag every election might consider that concept for a moment. Perhaps nascent voters should be encouraged to vote mentally (by actually informing themselves about the issues, for instance) before voting physically. I don’t think the insistent woman at my L.A. polling place would like that idea, though.
“Really, I’m not registered,” said Maia, who since she’s old enough at this point to pass for 18 thought the woman just didn’t understand.
“It doesn’t matter! Your vote will be counted!”
At that point I looked up from scrawling my name in the sign-in book. “She’s not retarded, you know,” I said. “She doesn’t really think George Washington is running for mayor.”
“Shhhh…” said the kindly looking elderly man in charge of the sign-in book. Since he’d had to listen to this maniac all day, maybe he was worried what would happen if her fantasies were questioned. But the woman just kept up her cheerful insistence.
“I’m not retarded either!” she yelled gaily. “I have a Ph.D! So fill in that ballot!” Sigh. Of course she had a Ph.D.
Probably Maia could have thrown a wet blanket of reality on the woman’s deluded enthusiasm if she’d put down George Bush as a write-in candidate. In the lefty neighborhood where we live, that would be like throwing a cherry bomb down a toilet, and is the kind of horrible thing I’d have done at 16: “He’s doing such a great job as president I want him as mayor too! NOW COUNT MY VOTE!” But unlike me, my daughter is far too polite for that. So she dutifully filled in the “ballot” and handed it back.
At least the woman didn’t think Maia was an illegal alien as well as underage. Then she probably would have insisted on giving her a fake driver’s license and a Tonka truck.
–Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.