I’m convinced that I didn’t vote this year, at least not really. How can merely mailing a piece of paper all the way across the country mean anything significant?
My ballot arrived from California a couple weeks ago. A few days later, I finished researching the propositions on which I wanted to exercise my direct democracy. Then I bubbled in the bubbles I liked, and after I waited in a short line at the post office for stamps, my ballot was on its way to sunnier climes.
Everything went smoothly, but I found the experience of voting absentee ridiculously surreal. No white curtain separated my decision-making process from the rest of my life. I couldn’t even fill out my ballot in private: someone had to sign a witness statement on the envelope. This meant that my opinions didn’t officially mean anything until my roommate took a break from his problem set. I didn’t even vote on a Tuesday.
But even as an absentee vote makes you rely on the crowd, it also separates you from it. Propositions that are heavily debated in California never made it onto my radar (and how are you supposed to vote with confidence without seeing the attack ads from both sides?). Back at Yale, people attempted to pitch Connecticut candidates to me with fliers, tirades and visits to my suite, but as soon I admitted that I was voting absentee, the fervor disappeared.
It was that lack of fervor that got to me the most. Maybe it’s the influence of “Schoolhouse Rock,” but I always expected that the act of casting a ballot would mean more to me than it has. Even though I knew I would be among the millions filling out a ballot on some Tuesday in November, I thought that my vote seems like it mattered the most.
I like to think that if I had voted in person, I would feel differently. Every vote does count the same in the end, but the ones found in voting booths must mean more to the people who fill them out than the one I marked up in a dorm room meant to me. They got an “I voted” sticker. I didn’t. Therefore, they voted and I didn’t — that’s how it works, right?
And if I did vote, then what is our country thinking? I’m not nearly qualified enough for this! What if I change my mind? Don’t the events of Hurricane Sandy mean that I qualify for retrial? I filled in my ballot while catching up on “Game of Thrones,” for goodness sake.
By 18, I was supposed to know how to make the right decision, not only for myself, but also for the rest of the country. I’m 19 now, and pretty much all I know with confidence is that this is not the case. I can’t even choose a sandwich at Gourmet Heaven without having doubts about the other options. How am I supposed to back a president?
Maybe this year’s election is to blame for not providing a candidate or proposition that truly inspires confidence. But barring the elections of 1792, 1864 and season four of “The West Wing,” when will there ever be a presidential candidate that is the definitively the right choice? Not to get highfalutin, but democracy forces you to choose from a mixed bag of pros and cons. If there is no best option, fight to include one.
But I don’t fight. I have never donated money to a campaign or even bought a pin. I tend to avoid debating my political opinions. You’re not just supposed to be proud of the act of casting a ballot, you are supposed to be proud of the statement you make by doing so: that you’ve grown up and taken a stand for something. By not embracing what I could have said with a ballot, I lost out on that feeling.
Later tonight, as the results of the general election flicker across news networks and Twitter streams, I’ll know that, in some small way, I contributed to the mass of statistics. My vote counts. But, returning to my original question, will that mean anything? To me, at least, it won’t mean as much as it could have.
Jackson McHenry is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This piece is part of the News’ Election Day Forum. Click here to read more.