Originally posted by this author at DemocraticUnderground.com in 2006, but still true.
The first time I voted, it was a little like stepping into a scene from the Wizard of Oz.
I went down the steps to the basement of the grammar school and there they were – rows of booths, each about twice the size of a phone booth, with long curtains hanging in front of them. I got to the front of the line and eventually the gentleman who voted ahead of me lifted the long lever on his booth to open the curtain, stepping out and revealing a somewhat fantastical looking machine
In my head, a voice boomed, “Don’t look behind the curtain!” Nervous already, I had to suppress a giggle, afraid the stern looking election judges, one of whom had a suspiciously pointy nose and chin, would send me packing as someone obviously too young and green for such an adult endeavor.
I stepped into the booth and pulled down the lever, closing the curtain. On the machine, there were rows of names, each with a small brass lever below it. I thought I’d start with my alderman, get some practice in before I moved on up to the mayor and, eventually, the President himself.
When I pulled down the little lever under my candidate’s name, it made a small but satisfying clacking sound. Eyeballing the other two candidates’ levers, I decided not to take any chances and nudged them slightly to make sure they were snugly in the upward position just to be sure.
So far so good. I moved on to the mayoral race and then held my breath as I ticked down the lever that cast my vote for the leader of the free world. It felt like an enormous, awesome responsibility. The winner of this election was going to have to make such hard and heavy decisions about Viet Nam, the Cold War, civil rights that it hardly seemed fair to call him a “winner.”
All my levers in place, I reviewed them a half dozen times to be absolutely, positively, 100%, no doubt about it sure I had done it right. Then I raised the giant lever that opened the curtain and finalized my vote.
It was official. I was an adult. I had participated. My voice would be heard.
I know it sounds corny, but cue the violins because I felt a little thrill. I felt part of something bigger than I was, something that was essentially good. From then on, forever more, I was at the table. My opinions mattered.
For the rest of the day, I managed to work the fact that I had voted into every conversation. I tried saying it casually, “Oh, yeah, I saw the cutest little dog over on Grace street when I went to vote.” I tried saying it smugly, “Well, of course, I voted.” I even took Good Citizen Me for a spin, “Have you voted? Can I watch the kids for you while you go down to vote?” I watched the election returns on TV until I fell asleep on the floor, then got the good news/bad news in the morning. My alderman won, the mayor was going to be the same mayor we’d had since I could remember, the wrong guy was going to be President. And I still felt a little bit of a thrill.
And that’s why I’ve voted in every election for more than 30 years since then – and why I’m going to vote on November 6, this time for Barack Obama. Because some of my candidates win and some lose, but whether they win or lose, I still feel that little thrill. I’m still part of something bigger than I am. And though it’s gone off course of late, it’s still essentially good and we can fix it. I’m still at the table. My opinion still matters.