Monday, November 5, 2012

The Agony of Early Voting, The Joy of Mail-In Voting

The first time I voted early here in Florida was in 2008.  It was a Saturday, and I drove downtown to the county clerk's office where the early votes were being taken.  I'd never done it before, but the job I had at the time frequently required me to start early and stay late.  I figured I wouldn't have time to vote on election day.  So I'd just roll in, fill out the ballot, and run on home. 

Then I got there and saw a line of people so long I would have thought it was for a Justin Bieber concert.  Except that the people in the line were all over 18, which is atypical of a Bieber concert.  Also, Justin Bieber was only 14 back then, and apparently was only annoying other Canadians.  A few quick inquiries told me that the wait would be hours.  But it was this or not vote.

I took a deep breath and got in line.  I always have bad luck when I wait in line at a government building (DMV, tax assessor, whatever), because I'm always in line with weirdos.  I know normal people have to go to these offices (presumably, everyone does), but they never go at the same time I do.  Every time I go, the line is full of creepy-looking, heavy-breathing, basement-dwelling guys. So not only am I waiting an hour or so to get a license or pay taxes, but a bunch of would-be child molesters are breathing down my neck the entire time. It's unpleasant.

However, this particular line was not a bunch of freaks. Several women who worked at the nearby hospital were in line behind me.  Immediately ahead of me was a guy who worked at a local internet company.  Ahead of him was a local state representative, who had come out to vote with the rest of us schmucks.  These were all normal people. I was somewhat amazed.

I noticed several of the candidates working the line, trying to drum up last minute votes. Most of these were candidates for offices that nobody pays attention to. But a few were running to be judges and aldermen. I found this strangely heartening. We may have to march into town halls or courtrooms and bow and scrape and say "your honor" or whatever once they're elected, but for now these would-be pols had to work the line and beg for votes from the hoi polloi.  This actually reinforced my belief in democracy.

It didn't last long.  Once I got past the politicians, I noticed the freak show.  Every activist in town was passing out flyers and other assorted swag to the unsuspecting voters.  There are laws against campaigning near a polling place, but the law in Florida says no campaigning within one hundred feet.  This line was way longer than one hundred feet, and the activists were staying well away from the entrance.

One guy was there from the local Democratic party.  He handed me a slip of paper and said "Here's your Democratic slate.  When you go in there, you don't even have to think, just pick the candidates we've listed here.".  I took the thing to shut him up, but couldn't help but be a bit stunned that a party representative was encouraging me not to think.

An elderly lady came up next and glared at me with rheumy eyes and shoved a slip of paper at me with one quavering hand.  She said something to me in a wheezy voice, but I couldn't make it out.  Having always been taught to respect my elders (even the ones that look like they could be zombies), I just nodded politely and took the slip.  It was pro-life leaflet saying something about the abortion "holacust.".  Republicans, and particularly pro-lifers, spend a lot of time trying to shake the belief that they are ignorant, inbred, crazy people.  It's a belief I've always found unfair. She wasn't helping their cause.

I dealt with dozens of similar nutjobs that day. When I finally got to the front of the line (six hours later), I saw a little form that came with the ballot that gave me the option of having my ballot mailed to me next year.  "Hell, yes," I thought.  Anything to avoid this nightmare again.  Since that fateful day, my ballot has been delivered to my mailbox.  I also discovered that day why I always bumped into creeps and weirdos at the DMV and the tax assessor's office.  Normal people do this stuff over the phone or online or through the mail.  Now I get my ballot through the mail too, and the number of oddballs that I bump into has decreased dramatically.

Of course, I completely forgot to vote in 2009.  My ballot was just collecting dust on my coffee table for months.  One could argue that this reduces turnout. Still, after watching all of the bitching and moaning about early election nonsense in Florida for the 2012 election, I see the value of mailed ballots.  No more long waits is just the least of it.

Two years ago, I bought a house in a somewhat nicer area than I had been living in.  The market was at rock bottom, so I could afford it.  And unlike my previous neighborhood, politicians and party volunteers routinely knock on doors in election season.  Every now and then I'll actually talk to one, when I'm in a good mood.  I'm rarely in a good mood.  Now that the ballot is mailable, if some campaign douche comes by I can laugh in his face and tell him I already voted.  Of course, that's a blatant lie.  I wait until the last minute to deliver my ballot.  But it is effective at getting people to go away.

The other huge advantage is that I get to troll the putzes waiting in line.  I could just mail the ballot in and not hand deliver it.  But that takes away half of the fun.  Tonight, I'll go to the poll at the busiest time, when the dinosaurs are waiting in line to vote in an actual polling booth.  I'll see hundreds of people who came there straight from work.  They'll wait in line for hours while their kids are at home not getting supper because their parents had a democratic urge.  And I'll saunter by those long lines, occasionally looking askance at these geniuses doing it the old-fashioned way.  I'll relish the hate-filled looks of the masses trapped in that seemingly endless queue.  If someone asks me what I think I'm doing, I'll smile sweetly and say "My ballot's right here, suckas!"  Then I'll drop my ballot in the slot and bail the hell out.

Of course, the biggest advantage to mail-in ballots would be noise reduction.  I've noticed, as always, a frenetic last-ditch effort by both campaigns to snag last minute converts.  Pundits jump in front of every camera they can.  Television ads jam the airwaves.  Tweets clog cyberspace.  As the desperation increases, the ridiculousness increases.  Crazy predictions, outlandish analysis, and absurd claims bombard us at every turn. 

If we all mailed in our votes at least a week in advance, we could seriously reduce the crazy levels.  I'm generally supportive of encouraging people to shut up, and this would be an effective way to do that.  Not that I'm opposed to people speaking their minds.  I just prefer that they say something useful.  Most last minute pundit spew is mindless blather, and therefore shut-up-worthy.  I prefer to hear thoughtful analysis.  Or at least mindless blather with an underlying meaning, which is what I do on this blog.  Mail-in voting shuts up the chattering class early and prevents the circus that is early voting lines. 

I don't know if other states mail out ballots, but if they did we could reduce the noise level significantly.  We could tell the door-to-door campaigners to take a hike.  We could render last minute misadventures in punditry obsolete.  I would have to give up voter line trolling if everyone mailed it in.  But it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the betterment of America.  Besides, I can find other ways to be a dick.  Mail-in voting: for a better, quieter, less annoying election.

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