Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Perspective from a Political Novice

I am writing this in mid-October. Some of this has been churning in my mind since August. But I am not even posting this until the election, because I'm just so sick of hearing about it right now.

I'm with ya, buddy.

You could argue that I'm just adding to the noise, but I'm not, really. At least I don't think I am. I don't want to rant and argue about the same things everyone else is ranting and arguing about. I just want to talk a little about my first election.

That's right: this is my first time voting. I know, I know. I've been eligible to vote for two previous presidential elections and who knows how many other elections in the past eleven years. Right or wrong, I had my reasons for not voting, but I decided early on that this year would be different.

Once I'd made that decision, I wanted to educate myself as much as possible on what I would be voting for, starting with the presidential candidates. Unlike most people, I didn't know right off the bat who I supported. I don't identify myself as a Democrat or a Republican, and even if I did, personally I don't think that's the best way to decide your vote. Sure, after looking into the issues that are important to you, you'll PROBABLY end up voting for your party's candidate -- there's a reason you belong to that party, after all -- but you shouldn't do it blindly. You also shouldn't allow yourself to be swayed by your candidate's reasonings and arguments just because he's "your candidate." This one, I'll admit, is a little harder, because people see what they want to see. Reading social media feedback after the debates, it seemed that supporters of each side would come away thinking that their guy won, and the other guy made an idiot of himself. I did see SOME impartial observations, but by the overwhelming majority, you'd think people weren't watching the same debate . . . and they weren't, really. They were watching their own version of what was happening.

Something I discovered pretty early on is that, for a first time voter, it's pretty daunting to figure out what you're doing. I'm not talking about getting registered and showing up on election day. I'm talking about something as simple as figuring out what district you're in. For the U.S. Congress, fine, I think I found that on Wikipedia. But for the state elections? It was ridiculous. You wouldn't think that I'd have had to spend half an hour doing internet searches, looking at maps, and wading through out-of-date information just to find this (and then still wonder if I got it wrong). The official Iowa website had a great document listing every single candidate running for both the national and state congress for each district . . . but nowhere on the website did it tell me which pairs of names I should be concerning myself with.

(To be fair, I got something in the mail in early October with that information on it. Not to mention that, once the political flyers started showing up in my mailbox, it was obvious who wanted my vote. But at the time I started looking into all this, it required way more detective work than it should have. Seriously, how hard would it be to just add that information to the website? They already know where I live because they're confirming my polling place. They even give me my precinct number, which as far as I can tell doesn't mean anything to me, except possibly to determine my polling place, but they're already giving me that information! So, can't they add a couple extra numbers that actually DO mean something? Let's get on that, Iowa.)

Another thing that surprised me was how unhelpful the various "voter awareness" websites were. They were all about "making your voice heard" and "knowing your rights" which is great . . . but they were obviously more concerned with making sure people were voting than making sure people were informed. If they aren't going to provide the information themselves, they should at least have links to other resources, where you can learn more about the candidates. And that, I think, is the most frustrating part of this whole experience. Everywhere you turn it's Obama this, Romney that, but I had to put in SO much effort just to get the most basic information on anything OTHER than the presidential election.

And then, the stuff that you DO hear about the presidential election, I feel like most of it isn't actually helpful, it's just drama. I've read several articles recently about various thoughts on reforming this whole process. How we could do debates differently. Should we even have debates at all? Personally I'd be all for having the candidates fill out a survey, giving their stances on the various issues, giving examples of what they've done in the past and what SPECIFICALLY they would do in the future in regards to each issue, and then shutting up about it. But, I know other people like to see their politicians in action.

Then there are some offices that I don't even get why we vote for them. County auditor, for example. Is this person really representing the public? Isn't it just a job? Does doing that job have anything to do with a person's political views? Why am I voting for this?

Anyway . . .

The biggest lesson learned for next time: don't try to get such an early start on researching candidates. It only leads to frustration. Just wait until a sample ballot is available and go from there.

The rest of my frustration isn't really anything that I can learn from and do differently, as it all comes from the way the system is set up, a system that seems to favor slander and propaganda over honest information. I'm actually looking forward to voting in an election that doesn't include the president, just to see how different it is.

And maybe, some time in the near future, smarter and more assertive people than I can figure out a way to eliminate all the wasteful parts of campaigning and just focus on what voters actually need to know . . . but I won't be holding my breath.


  1. I'm always amazed by how complicated the voting system in the US is. In Germany we don't have to get registered to vote. Once you turn 16 you get a piece of paper before every election that you're eligible to vote on that you take with you on election day to the polling station, hand it in there and be done with it. For years, my family never even needed to show ID because there was always someone helping there that knew us.

    Well, you said you had your reasons but seriously?? This is your first time voting?

    I still remember how mad I was when our then-chancellor Gerhard Schröder stepped down from his office early and robbed me of my chance to vote the first time on a nation-wide election. Only 2 months later and I could have voted but thanks to him, I needed to wait 3 more years, I was really mad back then!

    I totally get though, that you just want everyone to shut up already. Election years are always annoying wherever in you vote. Now I'm just curious who won but I'm also glad it's finally over.

    Will you vote again in 4 years? Still undecided?

    1. I will probably always vote from now on. As for why I never did before . . . well, that should probably just get its own blog post.

      I don't think it's actually over, not really. First of all the race is so tight I wouldn't be surprised if we don't find out today who wins. And then there will be all the people who are outraged at the outcome, and all the people who are smug about the outcome. It may die down, but I have a feeling there's still plenty of hate to go around before it's really over.