I’m feeling all nostalgic about voting. The US election is dominating every media outlet here and I can’t vote.
Even sadder, I love voting, and I’ve worked out, if I could vote, exactly who or what I’d be voting for this coming Tuesday. I’ve even read these helpful publications from cover to cover.
Yes, I’m a voting geek! And I’m proud of it.
As I’m not a US citizen, I can’t vote, despite this being my home and will be affected by the outcome. Of course, I kind of understand why I can’t vote as a non-citizen, but deep down, I’m frustrated. And a little bit sad.
I want to vote and I know of so many people who don’t want to or can’t be bothered (can’t I have one of their ballot papers?), and, dammit, I’ve had to sit through months of political adverts on TV. I’ve watched all the presidential debates. That alone makes me feel that I have earned the right to walk into that ballot station and put a cross in a box about something.
I remember the first time I voted. I was just 18 and I was so very excited about being able to vote and have a say about how my country would be run. It was the first time that I felt empowered – this was my own decision, based on my own opinions and my vote was known only to me, and the ballot box.
I took it so seriously too. I dressed up in sensible clothes, tried to look older and wiser, attempted to have a serious and contemplative expression, and look worthy of such a huge responsibility. I looked about 12 at that age – I must have looked really rather silly.
But I still remember the delightful sense of responsibility when I took that ballot paper from the polling officer, picked out one of those stubby pencils, walked into the battered and forlorn looking booth and closed the dank grey curtain. I placed the neatest-ever cross in the box, careful not to go over the lines, folded it neatly, and placed it, carefully, into the black metal ballot box. I walked outside, and in my precocious teenage angst, thanked those who had fought, and died, for the right for people like me to vote.
But it was the start with a love affair of politics, although an affair that has waned and surged throughout the years.
We’ll gloss over the sadness I felt that my vote didn’t, in fact, change the result.
These were the Tory Thatcher years, and my little vote for Labour was lost in a swathe of Thatcher enthusiasm – after all, she was the woman that led us into a war no-one cared about, for an island that few could locate on a world map, but dammit – she had beaten the Argentinians in their own backyard. She was the woman who allowed council house tenants to buy their own properties at knock down prices allowing a new generation of home owning voters to express their thanks in the ballot box. And she was yet to be on the receiving end of the Poll Tax backlash.
Thatcher was the working class face in a party of elite upper class men. And she was a woman who had fought her way to the top despite sex and class prejudice. Neil Kinnock, her opposing party leader, was the man who had tripped over his own feet on the beach at Blackpool and landed in the water. Live on TV. And he was ginger. And from Wales. There was only ever going to be one winner of this election.
So my first election was also my introduction to feeling disenfranchised. My vote didn’t change a thing.
I have voted in every single election since. And voting hasn’t changed much since my first time – it’s still a stubby pencil and a paper ballot, put into a black metal (or sometimes, these days, its plastic – that’s progress for you) ballot box. Although you can also vote by mail now too.
I have felt the highs of excitement that the party I voted for has won, and I have felt the sense of sorrow when my chosen party has lost. I have varyingly voted Labour, Green and for independent candidates. I have spoilt my ballot paper to show that I had no candidate to vote for. But I have never voted Conservative. Nor have I ever voted Liberal (or any of their various incarnations over the years). I am a solid left wing voter.
But despite the failings of the first-past-the-post electoral system we have in the UK, I still believe with a passion that it’s important to vote. And I always used to say that I didn’t care who you voted for, it was just important to exercise your right to have a say. Although, I obviously prefer it if you voted the way I did.
Elections in the UK seem so simple now in comparison with elections here in the US.
Until last year or so, we only got to vote for three people – the local councillor, the local MP , and the European MEP (the person sent to Brussels and Strasbourg to represent the region at the European Parliament). Some people lived in areas that meant they could voted for candidates on smaller parish councils – but generally speaking that was all our elections were… No voting for mayors, police commissioners, public officials or even presidents. No voting for propositions and measures either.
Fairly simple, huh? Generally, there was always a choice of a candidate from the three main parties. And if you were lucky you got a choice of some ‘fringe’ parties such as Green and (unfortunately) parties like the BNP. And if you were really, really lucky, you might get a random assortment of independent candidates who ranged from impassioned local campaigners to the local publicity hungry crazies.
And that, until a year or so ago, was it. Recently some places have been able to vote for a directly-elected mayor. And new for 2012, there will be elections for police commissioners.
And campaigning for votes is really rather different too.
No political adverts are allowed on TV or radio, expect for officially sanctioned (and hugely dull) party political broadcasts that are aired by the main political parties. They last five very long minutes each and are heavily regulated, and parties get only a few each in the run up to an election.
We used to get leaflets posted through are door, but even that seems to have died off in recent years as billboard and newspaper advertising take prominence. The leaflets were always a source of entertainment, badly produced by local candidates littered with spelling mistakes, bad clipart, and always featured a candidate standing frowning over a pothole (we take potholes very seriously), or shaking the hand of a local bobby. And we would have candidates knocking on our doors asking for our votes.
So – imagine the contrast now I am in the US. British elections now seem all rather genteel and quaint in comparison.
In California – when you register to vote, you get a 144 page book and a 40 page pamphlet outlining all the things you can vote on. I have never voted in the US, so I can only imagine what a ballot paper looks like when these all the things that are up for election this year.
So, to start, you get a choice to vote for some people…
- President and Vice-President (choice of 6 options, including Roseanne Barr, yes – that Roseanne)
- Senator (a choice between a Democrat and a Republican)
- Representative (a choice between a Democrat and an independent)
- State Assembly (a choice, strangely between two Democrats)
- District Attorney (deciding between 2 lawyers, basically)
Then, in California… you get to vote for 11 state measures, including Proposition 34 (proposal to end the death penalty), Proposition 33 (something not that exciting about car insurance premiums) and Proposition 37 (should we have labelling on foods that says if ingredients are GM).
Then… (and take a deep breath) you get to vote for 3 Los Angeles county measures, which includes Proposition A (something about changing the county assessor to an appointed position rather than an elected one) and, now this one is rather exciting, Proposition B (all adult film performers to have to wear condoms).
And if the ballot paper seems long, just imagine how many TV and radio adverts have bombarded our screens in the past few months. Not only are there adverts for all the people candidates, there are for and against adverts for 14 different California and county propositions.
Nothing seems to make much sense – according to the adverts every teacher seems for, and yet at the same time against, Proposition 30 (temporary taxes on earnings over $250,000 to fund schools), and family farmers seem to be unified both for and against Proposition 37 (food labelling).
And it seems you can blatantly lie in these adverts and just keep showing them repetitively (Mitt Romney claiming Jeep are moving manufacturing from the US to China is still airing despite Jeep claiming that is totally untrue), a national Republican advert claiming Billy’s BBQ in Richmond, VA, closed because of Obama’s policies (ahem, think the multiple health code violations may have contributed at all?).
And there definitely seems to be a law that says all adverts must have either schmaltzy music – or something not out of place in a post-apocalyptic disaster movie. And look all like they cost about $20 to make by an underpaid and overworked college intern.
Now I love politics. I even have a politics degree. And I’m a voting geek. Even I am now at the stage of screaming at the TV for it to all be over.
But, I’m asking… please vote for me. Because I can’t.