My DC: Polling Place (Bonus Feature: A Long, Non-Political Rant About Voting)

Watkins School, part of the Capitol Hill Cluster School. (Apologies for the fact that the photo is awful. I took one with my good camera but forgot the cable, so this is the bad iPhone one.)
Watkins School, which is part of the Capitol Hill Cluster School. (Apologies for the fact that the photo is awful. I took one with my good camera but forgot the cable, so this is the bad iPhone one.)

This is Watkins School, where I vote. I probably should have waited until election day to post this, but I’ve been thinking about voting a lot this week — and not just because I am bombarded with Virginia’s swing-state presidential ads every time I turn on the television. On the current edition of a knitting podcast I like (stop laughing) done by “an Australian bloke who knits,” he mentioned that his nation has compulsory voting — that even people who don’t want to vote still have to show up and stuff a blank ballot in the machine.

So, I’ve been contemplating mandatory voting.  I was raised to believe that voting was a duty and not just a right, but clearly, not everyone agrees. Would requiring everyone to vote actually make things better? I’m skeptical. Unleashing the terminally apathetic on the electoral system would lead to improvements in voter turnout rates, but perhaps not much else. And my inner Libertarian (I do have one, and she spends all her time fighting with my inner Socialist) thinks that criminalizing lack of participation in government might be overstepping just a little.

I’d really rather that everyone would just want to vote, and that it could be easier, and more celebratory, and — dare I say it? — fun. We have a bunch of holidays about the greatness of our country: our independence from Britain, the birthdays of sundry significant leaders, the contributions of both our living veterans and war dead. We get a lot of days off, parades, speeches, and fireworks, but the day we exercise one of the most fundamental rights afforded to us? It’s a drag. Across the country, we line up in school gyms, fire stations, church halls, and community centers on the way to work, at lunchtime, before dinner — whenever it can be squeezed in. Getting the cheery “I voted!” sticker is about the only fun part of the process. While our political questions may be interesting, the way we cast our ballots sure isn’t.

I think it would be great if Election Day was a federal holiday. Nobody would go to work. Precinct captains would have some time in the morning to perk up the polling place. Lemonade stands, bake sales, and free coffee would be encouraged. People would hang out with their neighbors, vote, and then celebrate like the Fourth of July — grilling, fireworks, parades. America is full of interesting, creative, entrepreneurial individuals, so I am sure a holiday about voting could be made every bit as fun as Independence Day. (I mean, really. The founders did not mention furniture sales or red, white, and blue swirly margaritas in the Declaration of Independence, but somebody thought of them anyway.)

Will this eliminate voter apathy? Improve turnout? I think it would help, but I know it couldn’t hurt. Most people like being part of things that are fun, so if voting is a celebration, it might become a more appealing activity.*

All my  Pollyanna-ish wishing aside, my point here is: VOTE! (Even if it’s boring. Even if you don’t have time.) And don’t forget to register if you’ve moved or are new to the process. The deadlines are coming very, very soon.


* I’m not, incidentally, saying we should dumb down the process (further, that is, given the current media climate). There should still be speeches and debates and long-winded editorials. The whole election can’t be fun and still be the serious and deliberative thing that it should be, but that doesn’t mean Election Day itself can’t have some zip.

6 thoughts on “My DC: Polling Place (Bonus Feature: A Long, Non-Political Rant About Voting)

  1. sprite October 3, 2008 / 1:59 pm

    I lack an inner libertarian, so I’m all in favor of compulsory voting.

    That said, many other things I’m in favor of remain out of reach, so I’m not going to hold my breath for this one.

    Jane Eisner, a reporter who has written a book about getting young people involved in voting, had an interesting profile in the Wesleyan alumni magazine during the ’04 campaign. In it, she talked about how we don’t do enough to celebrate a teen’s first vote and that it ought to be more of an occasion than it is. Seems like a good idea to me.

    I include the link to the magazine article, if anyone feels like reading it:

  2. common loon October 3, 2008 / 2:17 pm

    Hey, that’s how I want to raise my kids! Even if the country doesn’t get onboard, we will. GREAT POST!!!!!!! Hope this one gets noticed by a bigger audience…

  3. wendalicious October 3, 2008 / 11:05 pm

    Bob and I were discussing that very topic last night while watching the debate. We both wholeheartedly agreed that Election Day should be a federal holiday – but let’s not get stupid and make it a Friday or Monday…that would really just be another excuse for a 3-day holiday weekend.

    Let’s start a movement! I’m in!

  4. Mom October 6, 2008 / 12:57 pm

    Gee we don’t get “I Voted” stickers in New York 😦

    I see an “event” for you to organize Sarah — get to it !!

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