On April 3, our state’s presidential primary was held, and on the way home from class that afternoon, I voted. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I trusted my mom to cast a ballot for me.
I had been looking forward to voting ever since my dad went to vote in the last election in which I was too busy with school conflicts, and he came home reporting that our precinct now had an electronic voting machine for the blind. But when I got to my precinct last week, I found out it wasn’t working. Maybe I should have put some pressure on the pole workers because while I disagree with the militancy of organizations like the National Federation of the Blind in some respects, I have always been bothered by the fact that some blind people are denied the right of a secret ballot. But I didn’t say anything for three reasons.
For one thing, our voting precinct is my former elementary school full of sweet memories. In addition to the innocence and simplicity of elementary school life–three recesses, birthday treats, holiday parties and crafts–I remember thinking even as a little kid how cool it was to have a precinct at my elementary school as this created extra opportunities for early lessons on civic engagement. In first grade, I remember when a teacher showed me the machines that counted votes the day before the 1996 election as the gym was being set up. In third grade, I remember when Dad let me stand with him while he voted before dropping me off at the before-school day care and then let me wear the “I voted” sticker. It was fun to pretend I was a grown-up by proudly displaying that sticker, but I couldn’t wait for the day when I could wear that sticker legitimately.
I remember how sometime around every election, even the ones when I was too little to care about them, Mom would talk about how the right to vote is a fundamental right in a democracy and a privilege we should take advantage of since it is one many countries still don’t have. Besides, if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. This statement has always stuck with me and while I admit I have skipped a couple smaller elections because of long school days, I do my best to make every election and will even occasionally encourage my college friends to go and vote. (It is baffling how many people in my demographic don’t bother to vote.)
Every time I go back to my former elementary school to vote, I hear little children playing games and screaming happily in the other gym and am always recognized and joyously greeted by a teacher or office worker who remembers me, which brings these sweet memories flooding back to me. The friendly, elderly sounding pole workers are the perfect icing on the cake. So as silly as it sounds, I didn’t want to spoil this friendly environment full of sweet memories by complaining.
It also occurred to me that everyone else at my precinct still uses the voting equipment that the teacher showed me way back in first grade where voters mark paper ballots and then walk them over to a cool machine that suck the ballots out of their hand and counts them with a beep. (That’s the real reason I didn’t complain. I didn’t want to miss out on using that cool machine! Just kidding.) I don’t know enough about voting technology to know whether my electronic vote would be aggregated with everyone else’s paper ballots or if there is a chance it would be separate. If my vote is counted separately, that would mean the ballot would be secret from my mom, but the county clerk could see who the one blind person using the electronic machine voted for. Given that our county clerk has raised some suspicion lately with strange glitches in the counting of votes, I trust my mom way more than I do the county clerk with potentially knowing my vote. So ideally, I think it would be best if I don’t vote electronically unless or until the whole procedure is upgraded and everyone votes electronically. I think it would be especially cool if the voting machines could work like the iPad does in that everyone could use the same machine, but when I walk in, someone would just switch it to voice mode for me. Or better yet, the machine could be so simple that I could switch it to voice mode myself. Or you know what would be coolest of all? The paper that the ballots are printed on is thick like braille paper. Why has no one ever tried sticking a ballot in to a braille writer and brailling the names of each candidate with a braille dashed line which I could complete with a pen or crayon like I did for worksheets and standardized tests in elementary school? Well, I do know why it hasn’t been done. Again for it to be fair and secret, every ballot would need to have print and braille on it, and given that braille is expensive to produce, it would be pretty impractical. But if we lived in a world where cost effectiveness didn’t have to be taken in to consideration, that’s the option I would vote for.
Finally, while some people like to keep their vote a secret, especially from their family, I don’t mind sharing who I voted for and in fact, I enjoy the interesting discussions such a question can initiate. The campaign office that called the Thursday before the primary and specifically asked to speak with me will be happy to know I voted for Rick Santorum. Given my strong belief that everyone should be required to pitch in for health insurance, and the fact that I am fed up with the negativity of the whole republican party in general, I will probably vote for Barack Obama in November, but since he is the incumbent and will be the uncontested nominee for the democratic party, I felt I would be wasting my vote if I voted for him in the primary. He will be on the ballot in November no matter what. But if Barack Obama is defeated in November, I would rather Rick Santorum be president than Mitt Romney. This is not to say I agree with everything about him. Especially worrying is his statement that the United States shouldn’t apologize for burning the Koran, as such disregard for other religions wouldn’t help our already strained relationship with these middle eastern countries. But I like that he ran his campaign with much less money than Mitt Romney and given that, he seems like he would be a lot more attuned to the needs of the 99 percent. More research is needed on my part before November, but given what I have observed so far, that is where I stand. (Of course, since then Rick Santorum has suspended his campaign, so I still ended up sort of wasting my vote which means that as a pundit said on the news last Tuesday when Rick Santorum’s withdrawal from the race was announced, barring a political earthquake, Mitt Romney will be the republican nominee).
But I should mention that while I don’t mind if my vote is not a secret, something I have already started to think about that I will need to worry about in the future is who I can trust to help me vote when my parents get to a position where they cannot take me to the poles anymore. My parents and I actually have voted differently in a couple elections and before filling out my ballot, they always reassure me that they would never ever do anything dishonest with my ballot. They are the kind of people that can be completely trusted. But given how polarizing politics has gotten, especially in my state, I honestly wouldn’t put it past anyone else, even the pole workers to take advantage of my blindness and essentially vote twice, while cheating me out of my vote. Talk about the perfect crime! Since voting is done in a private booth, just the blind voter and the assistant, no cameras allowed and no other witnesses required, that would be it, as under these circumstances, the “assistant’s” odds of not being discovered are excellent! Again, given how polarizing and dirty politics has gotten, I cannot be the only person who has thought about that. Around every election which brings back this thought, I laugh to myself as I imagine trying to casually engage my friends in political discussions someday to pick up from their views who will probably vote the same as me and thus be trustworthy and conversely, whose offers of ballot assistance it might be a good idea to politely decline. If there were ever an election in which for some reason I wanted to vote for a democrat in one race and a republican in another, I might look for someone who is so out of touch with politics that they would be impartial and thus most likely trustworthy, or bring an entourage to the poles with me, call one person for each part of the ballot while making sure the backs of the others are turned!
But in all seriousness, when the time comes for this to be a concern, I absolutely will fight for an accessible voting machine, not because the right to a secret ballot is a big deal to me but because as you can see, having confidence that my ballot is in fact being marked the way I want it to be is. I would be curious to know if other blind readers live in precincts with accessible voting for the blind, or if, like me, you must still count on the decency and integrity of your fellow man? Have any of you ever discovered somehow that someone you trusted to help you vote wasn’t honest with your ballot? If your precinct has accessible voting equipment, did you have to ask or fight for it, or was it something your precinct thought of on its own? Are the machines your precinct chose easy to use or could they be better?
Actually, now that I think about it, I will be graduating college in less than one month and since I have no job lined up yet, I will literally have all the time in the world. So even though my trustworthy parents will most likely be able to help me vote for many more years, this might be the best time for activism.
I heard a wonderful saying once that goes something like, “if you want change, you must be the voice of change.” This is definitely an area in which I would like to see change because as advanced as our society has become in so many other areas, I really shouldn’t have to place my trust in anyone at the poles, even my parents.
Exactly one month from today will be “the first day of the rest of my life.” In the month leading up to my high school graduation, I remember being on top of the world, glowing with the anticipation of walking across the stage, holding my diploma and hugging all of the teachers and friends who made everything possible one more time. What I failed to think about was the day after the party. I never realized how significant a part of my life high school was until the day after when it occurred to me that it was all over. While my parents cleaned up after the party, I remember walking around like a zombie. My grandma stayed in town the week after my graduation, and we did some fun activities like taking a walk on the lakefront and baking cookies, but I remember feeling in need of a purpose. Part of me worries that this feeling will be even worse on May 14, partly because I actually grew attached to more people at my college than I did in high school and because as I mentioned in “Living on Easy Street”, I am not just transitioning to a new school after this graduation, but a new world. For awhile, my fear of this lost feeling the day after made me consider filling out job applications this semester and writing that I was available to start May 14. After taking a deep breath and talking to Mom, I realize that I will want some transition time before starting a new job. But I will definitely need some sense of purpose beyond relaxing on the lakefront. So readers, if I write a really depressing entry on May 14, feel free to remind me of this entry. After all, using what I have learned in college about research to arm myself with information about voting rights and accessible voting equipment and then using this information to contact my representatives and be the voice of much-needed change in my area would make for a productive, exciting and purposeful “first day of the rest of my life.”
One thought on “Thoughts on Voting and Trust”
What a fascinating read this was! We don’t vote using machines in Canada, and I don’t remember Braille ballots from when I worked the provincial election about a decade ago (my supervisor would have handled accommodations anyway). I honestly don’t know how blind people vote, and I really should.
I hope that you’re feeling good about your graduation. Congratulations!