Saturday, January 21, 2012

Vote by Mail - blah blah blah

Presidential primary season is in full swing and soon we will all be inundated with political ads to the point of nausea by our Republican candidate, the Obama campaign and a ridiculous number of SuperPACs and whoever else.  

I love politics! And I used to really love voting. But not so much anymore.

I grew up near Chicago, which has an "interesting" voting history. You know, your dead pet can vote there! =) I still remember the first time I got to vote. I went with my mom to a church near our house that was set up as our local polling place. We drove there, parked in the parking lot, went inside. I am sure I showed my ID or maybe my voter registration card. Someone marked my name off a list and gave me a ballot. I went into a booth, pulled the curtain, put the ballot in the machine and poked holes for my nominees. (This was way back in the age of walking up hill both ways to school, before hanging chads and electronic voting.)  When I was done, someone gave me a sticker that said I VOTED TODAY! And I wore it with pride. 

Can't you feel the excited energy! 

In the fall of 2000, I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, attending the UofM School of Social Work. I saw Ralph Nadar speak. I voted absentee in Illinois, my first experience with 'mail in' voting. I remember watching the 2000 Presidential election returns with a handful of Social Work grad students and another handful of teenagers at the teen drop in center where I was interning. 

And then a few years later I moved. To Oregon. Did you know that Oregon was the first state in the country to go to a "mail in only" ballot for elections? I didn't know that when I moved there, and I would guess that most people aren't even aware that your quirky Pacific NW states vote this way! Because, yes, in the past few years Washington has also become a "mail in only" state. (Though maybe not officially so, because Washington cancelled our Republican primary this year and we will be having caucuses instead. I don't think a "mail in only caucus" would work very well!) 

I guess there are numerous benefits to mail in only voting. The primary one has got to be financial. It saves the state a lot of money.  As a voter though, I hate it. 

Here's how we vote out here in wacky land:

A few weeks before "election day", your ballot comes in the mail, along with a gigantic mailed with what are essentially paid ads/position statements by candidates, and another with paid position statements on the various ballot meausres to be voted on. If you are a responsible, type A person, you read the thrilling mind numbing mailer, and then remove your ballot from multiple envelopes. You color in the oval next to the candidates you want, being sure to completely fill in the oval, just like you did when you took the SAT 100 years ago. And make that mark dark, for goodness sakes!  [For those of you who are not responsible or Type A, you sit your ballot in the pile of mail waiting to be opened and forget about it until just before or possibly after the voting deadline.]

You put your ballot in an evelope. Sign it. Put it in another envelope. 

Here's where it gets exciting...

You put a stamp on the envelope and put it in the mail. Done! You just voted in Oregon or Washington! 

Oh, and you probably did that well before the actual election day. 

Who needs the buildup and tension that leads up to the actual election day? Just vote 10 days before and get it over with.  At least that way those annoying phone calls stop once the rolls show that you have already voted.

But, a word of caution, if you vote too soon, you may be sorry! If you vote and your candidate does something stupid, you can't get that ballot back. 

People who are used to voting by mail generally seem to think it's a good idea. You don't have to make time in your day to go somewhere to vote. If it is raining, you don't have to *gasp* go outside in the rain! But as someone who has voted using both methods, it is so much more fun to vote in person, to experience the energy and build up to that one day where everyone goes out to vote. Plus, you get to wear a sticker! 

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