Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

So today is election day in America. In case you happened to forget that, one glance at your Facebook feed should be more than enough to remind you. Yes, young Americans, posting a political status makes you a completely mature, intellectual person. We're all very proud you voted.
Ok, I am actually really proud my friends are excited about voting. For a lot of them, it's their first time voting in a presidential election. For me, it's my second time around, and all the election day talk has made me think about what my life was like four years ago and how much has changed since then. SPOILER ALERT: a lot has.

On election day in 2008, I had been 18 for about a month. Sure, it's a slim margin to make it by, but I took advantage of it anyway. My parents kept me home from school that day (I think I was feeling a little sick and they just let me stay home) so we all went together to vote. I walked into my former elementary school, which I hadn't really been inside since the last day of 5th grade, and it felt strange to be back for such an incredibly adult thing to do. We headed into the gym and I saw the tables and booths set up and was immediately overwhelmed. I turned to my mom to let her lead the way, and she just gave me her "After you" look and hand motion that is a standard tool of hers when she wants me to take charge. I hate it, even though I need it. But I led us to the "G" table anyway. I got my ballot first and found the nearest open booth. I took the special marker they give you and commenced to stare at my empty ballot for a few minutes, terrified of making a mistake. I slowly filled in each bubble, moving a little faster when I got to the last sections, that included names and positions I'd never heard of in my life. "This guy's the incumbent, I bet he's doing a fine job. Here, have a vote, sir." Eventually I pulled back the curtain and walked over to the counting machine, only to find my parents already there waiting for me, with identical looks of amused impatience on their faces.
Then they bought me lunch and my mom and I went shopping.

This year, almost every aspect of my voting experience was different, because every aspect of my life is so completely different. Not only was I in a completely different state, but I voted absentee instead of in-person, and was far more well-informed this time around. I probably thought I was well-versed on the issues and was making an informed decision when I was a senior in high school, but as a senior in college now, I really doubt that. I think four years ago I just voted with my gut and lucked out. I had just finished applying for college, and between that, my classes, marching band, and my increasingly demanding social life, politics got kind of pushed to the periphery of my life. This year, I've been paying attention and could actually defend my stance and decisions. And even though I am voting for the same person I did four years ago, at least now I know why he has my vote.

Once, in London, a local asked me how Americans have freedom. I struggled answering it because it seemed like such an absurd question. But I think a vital part of it that shouldn't be ignored is how American adults, regardless of age or standing in life, have the right and the opportunity to have a say in how their government is run. The effectiveness of the process can be debated, but the principle remains the same.