We are nearing the end of the silly season and my stomach seems suspended on a rubber band. There are the backflips at every drumroll of BREAKING NEWS! There’s the low level of butterflies as I pull up the morning newspaper. About now, my instincts tell me to climb under a rock, but I’m quite sure I’ll bang my head on the ceiling of my cave fifty times a day checking my phone for campaign updates. Is that the definition of a political animal?
I will surely hold myself responsible if my candidate loses and I did nothing but whine. That’s the thing about politics. Its success sits both on your shoulders and completely out of your control. And it’s the lack of control that causes this persistent nag of nausea. You cringe with every gaffe by your candidate and revel in the mistakes of the other. You’re quite certain you have the winning campaign strategy, or ad, or tagline, but there’s no one, really, to hear you when you explain it to the television.
And so, six weeks out, I am registering voters.
Clipboard in hand, I approach. “Sir, are you registered to vote?” “Ma’am, is everyone in your household registered to vote?” Looking as benign as possible as a stranger hands me their most basic and personal information. It’s a moment of trust between fellow citizens that seems to skip over the animus present in the rest of our lives.
It’s heartening that most smile and nod. Some are emphatic that they’ve voted in every election since Roosevelt! Still, I find folks who have recently moved and not gotten around to changing their registration, or nearly eighteen-year-olds who didn’t know they could. Or those passionate about switching parties just this once. I sign them all up.
Here in Pennsylvania, the laws make it tough on volunteers. We are not permitted on private property without the owner’s permission. That means shopping centers, the biggest confluence of potential voters in most neighborhoods. I’m not talking about going table to table at the Olive Garden, but why not stand out front? You’d think I’m asking to hold a Klan rally instead of the simple act of helping people become an active part of our citizenry.
When the nasty shoe repair guy gleefully kicks all volunteers off the grounds of the busy shopping center, it is hard not to ascribe his motives to politics. And there is the conundrum. Is the act of registering voters a civic or political act?
It’s both, I know. Both in our choices of where to register voters and whom to approach. Wouldn’t it be great if the responsibility of voting was taught early and often and everyone was automatically registered to vote at age eighteen? There’d be no legions of clipboarded folks upping the annoyance factor by checking your voter status for the eighth time in a week.
Pennsylvania recently instituted voter registration online. It took me fifteen minutes to find the correct web address.
In twenty-two countries around the world, voting is mandatory. Am I showing my age when I lament that civics isn’t taught in schools anymore?
Legally, we volunteers must register folks of any party. As I peer over the shoulder of my next signee, I want to shout, “Really? You want to register for that party? Don’t you know…?” But I stay silent. What it does make me do is stay just a little longer until I capture the registration of another member of my own party to cancel out the clearly clueless one.
I’m finding more voter enthusiasm in my admittedly limited scope than is portrayed by the yammering heads on TV. Mostly, folks just want it over as its unpleasantness is draining on all.
I’ve had wonderful conversations with well-informed voters and commiserating ones with the worried. I’m spending time in communities that are not a part of my regular life. That’s the thing about participating in a civic action, you find how deeply connected we all are in this thing called democracy. The time passes quicker. I breathe a little easier.
Don’t just vote on November 8th, get out and volunteer today!!