Editor column: Casting a ballot for the first time
Prior to this past weekend I had never voted in an official election.
There, I said it.
Judging by reactions from the few people I shared my secret with prior to writing this, my failure to participate in our electoral system was, at best, egregious.
Personally it’s been a point of embarrassment that I’ve largely avoided by avoiding the topic. Outside of work, I don’t ask people who they voted for or how they voted on a particular issue, not because I think it’s inappropriate or offensive to ask — as I was taught growing up — but because I did not want the question to come back to me.
“I’ve never voted,” sounds much more pathetic than stating support for a specific candidate or position.
But as I proudly filled in the boxes on my mail ballot this past weekend, I thought about that embarrassment. From an early age we are bombarded with this idea that we have a responsibility to vote. We’ve all heard the election-season saying “every vote counts,” and our history is fraught with instances in which groups of people fought for the right to vote.
Looking back at elections past, I have only been able to vote for the president once — I turned 18 more than two months after the man promising hope and change defeated the Maverick with a running mate who exemplified the stereotype of the stupid American.
By 2012 I was a year into experimenting with this thing called journalism and much more interested in politics than I was as a high school senior. But some of my professors and peers in the journalism department refrained from voting so as to avoid any possible whiff of bias. The few who held this belief were not shy about sharing it.
I now find the thought of standing down on Election Day solely for this reason to be ridiculous — in most cases. (I did not vote in the 2015 Rifle municipal election because I cover City Council.) As a journalist whose color was more green from inexperience in 2012 than red or blue, I joined the ranks of the few who abdicated their right for the sake of remaining “unbiased.”
If I’m being completely honest, there also was a bit of ignorant indifference — the sort of thinking that goes along the lines of “What’s the point? They’re all crooks.”
I dismissed both of those positions by the time 2014 rolled around, but I had just relocated to Colorado and registering to vote was not at the top of my to-do list. (I now know that registering to vote in Colorado is not a lengthy and taxing process.)
This year I registered, not because I felt compelled to vote for, or against, one particular candidate. Rather, I registered because I ran out of excuses.
Back in January I finally got my Colorado driver’s license. Those familiar with this experience, which in terms of enjoyment ranks right up there with driving around construction-plagued Glenwood Springs these days, know that you have the option of registering to vote.
That was all the final push that I needed.
“Take my organs and sign me up to vote.”
Since then I’ve attended my first caucus as an observer — those of us registered as independents are not allowed to participate in the primaries in Colorado, although that could change on Election Day. I also updated my registration information, a must after moving into a new apartment this past summer. And, finally, I spent a little more than an hour filling out my ballot. In case you were wondering, I’m not that slow when it comes to shading in some boxes. The time was mostly spent reading up on judges up for retention.
Like many first times in life, voting felt good and, while not quite euphoric, the buzz from filling out my ballot made me wonder about what I’ve missed all these years. I regret not voting in the few elections I was able to back in Ohio, where they have a more traditional election compared to our mail ballot system
“Where’s my ‘I voted’ sticker?”
While dwelling on whether or not I had failed as a citizen, as a resident, as a taxpayer, I read the editorial in Tuesday’s Daily Sentinel.
The piece concluded with: “Vote because you have faith in the system. Vote because you know where you stand. But don’t vote only because you think you have a civic duty to do so. The only duty is to be armed with knowledge.”
Done, done and done.
Ryan Hoffman is the editor of The Citizen Telegram. You can reach him at 970-685-2103 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. But please, no ballot selfies.