Voting: One of the great rites of passage. I graduated high school in 1996—the year that Bill Clinton and Al Gore were running for president. In an effort to make us better citizens, my government class brought voting booths to the library. We were allowed to pre-register as voters if we would be turning 18 that year. It was all very overwhelming trying to decide which box to check. In my limited education, Democrat meant liberal and Republican meant conservative. As a teenager, I didn’t see myself as a conservative anything.
My best friend and I went into the booth together—which I’m pretty sure is not allowed—but we told our teacher we had to, simply because we did everything together. I’m not sure what we did once we pulled that giant lever that closed the curtain, but we giggled a lot. Needless to say, I didn’t take it very seriously then; maybe that’s why I find myself so conflicted now.
That’s not to say I don’t think voting is important, I do, but I am not very knowledgeable when it comes to politics, and I tend to think that an ignorant vote is more dangerous than no vote at all. As a result, I have been known to abstain from local elections, unless there is something on the ballot that I have a vested interest in—namely education.
A few years ago, I had done just that. Election day found me not visiting the polling place that was within a mile of my house. At 7:45 p.m. the telephone rang. The woman on the other end asked me if I had made it out to vote. When I told her that I had not, she reminded me that I had until 8:00 p.m. and could still get there.
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” I told her.
Let’s be honest, once my bra comes off, there’s not a whole lot that is going to get me to put it back on. It was late and my children were just about to be put to bed. There was no way that I was going to vote that night, and furthermore, I wouldn’t even know who or what I was voting for. Yet this woman took my refusal to vote very personally.
“I hear your children in the background,” she told me. And then she tore into me about how I was setting a horrible example for my kids by not exercising my right, as a woman, to vote. She was literally yelling at me. It was one of those situations where you are so flabbergasted that you can’t respond. After I had hung up on her, I thought of all the things I should have said.
I should have told her that the last time I checked, it was also my right to abstain from voting. I should have told her that the example I was setting for my children at that moment was that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all…Or not to let people pressure you into doing something you aren’t comfortable doing. I could have told her that I would, in fact, be heading to the polls thanks to her, and voting in opposition to the candidate she was supporting.
But I didn’t say any of those things; instead I sat there silently seething. And then I made a vow that I would never be in that situation again. Not because I would suddenly turn into one who voted for everything from the board members of my homeowner’s association to the next American Idol, but because I would never engage with these types of solicitors again.
Living in a swing state, we are inundated with phone calls and in-person visits for politicians. My new response to any living person who calls my home or rings my doorbell with this agenda is to tell them that I don’t discuss my political beliefs with others. Most people have told me that they respect that decision and politely hang up the phone or walk away.
Even though I no longer experience the frustration that I did that evening, I’m still frustrated.
While I would like to be less ignorant when it comes to politics, I hate everything about them: the slander, the advertisements, the debates, the issues, the way my phone rings off the hook, the way it brings out the worst in people, and the all-consuming way it infiltrates everything from radio to television to social media. And this year, it’s worse, because the two presidential candidates we have are both equally despised.
Even though I may have abstained from voting in local elections in the past, I have always voted for the president; but this year, for the first time ever, I’m torn. I don’t want to feel like I am selecting the lesser of two evils when I am voting for the person who will run our country. I want to endorse a person I will respect as our leader, but I’m not sure I can do that given these choices. And I can’t help thinking, that if these are our candidates, then maybe the system is broken.
The other day, I saw an elderly couple while out shopping. They both had white hair and cobalt blue shirts that read, “Nobody for President, 2016.” I chuckled and smiled and they nodded their heads at me, smiling in return. They think it’s broken too.
How many other Americans also feel this way? How many others would rather, for the first time in their lives, not choose? And yet, abstaining isn’t the answer. Because on November 8, one of these two candidates will be elected into office and we will all have to live with the consequences.
While I would love to see—and have my daughters see—the day a woman gets elected as president of our country, I don’t know that I want it to be her. And while I would love to tell my children that anyone can be president if they really want to, I don’t know that I want him to be the one who first sets that example.
As a citizen of a country founded on pride, courage, and determination, I don’t want to spend the next four years feeling embarrassed…or afraid…or disheartened. But unfortunately, that’s exactly what it’s come down to.
As an optimist, I tend to look for the silver lining in every desperate situation, and so I have to hope that something good will come from this election. If it isn’t the person who will continue to rebuild our country, then maybe, just maybe, it will be the stimulus for a country to re-evaluate its system.