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Rebelling at the Polls

by Amy Kenneley

On Election Day, I would be hurrying to get ready for school, trying to find my Laddie pencils and Campus paper tablet, when Grandpa would walk in the door from work. It was only 7:30 a.m. but his workday was over.

He was a night watchman. All night he patrolled the many floors of the factory. He would take two CTS busses, transferring once to the final stop, then walk 4 blocks home.

But before walking home that day, he had first stopped to vote. Tired as he was, voting was to him not only a right-it was an obligation. He would call to mom, "Nell-don't forget to vote before you go to work" She always assured him she would-and she did.

The Common Man

On voting day employers were supposed to allow you to come late to work, so that you could perform your civic duty. The "coming late" part was a luxury for many a blue- and white-collar worker.

Grandpa only had an eighth grade education, but he had graduated from the school of hard knocks. He read the newspapers and the Saturday Evening Post. He had worked for the WPA during the Depression, knew how to stretch bean soup into next payday, and baked a mean apple pie.

He had made up his mind about the necessary virtues--honesty was one, kindness to everyone was another. He had his faults and sometimes his dark days, but he always managed to come up with a good thought, a joke, a whistle or a few verses of "Blow the Man Down" I think he was that "Common Man."

With such a determined family example, it was no wonder I looked eagerly towards the day when I turned 21 and could vote for the first time. I stood in a long line that worked its way slowly up to the table with the large voter registration books. It was a presidential year, so the crowds turned out.

Stepping into the little booth, the blue curtain pulled behind me, I approached this small altar to democracy. A plain pencil tied to a string, a sheet of paper with candidates' names, issues and levies were the only other votive objects in the booth. I was alone with them and with my conscience.

Today's Candidates

Today, more than 40 years later, I still step into that booth with something of awe, still convinced my single vote matters, still convinced in the rightness of being there, and the privilege of being able to.

Only now I survey the list of candidates with little enthusiasm. Now I don't vote "for" a candidate as much as "against" the opponent--but to be truthful, few candidates inspire me.

I wish, as a voter, I could express my non-confidence in the candidates supported by political parties. I wish I could add to the list of names, down at the bottom of the ballot sheet, another candidate-- N.O.T.A.---and put an X right there in the box next to it.

NOTA? Yes-- None Of The Above. Why vote for someone who isn't "as bad as" the other one? Why not raise the bar for political parties by being able to select none of their candidates if I so choose? To vote for the least objectionable candidate isn't a vote for better government.

If enough NOTAs were counted after the polls close, and there wound up being more NOTA votes than candidate votes, a new election would have to be scheduled and different candidates would have to be placed on the ballot.

Dreaming On

A costly idea to force another election, perhaps, but in the end perhaps worth it to make candidates live up to the values they espouse in their campaigns. For those incumbents, it won't be the "same old, same old" just because their name has recognition value. The elect will have to re-invent themselves each election if they don't want NOTA to be the winner.

I don't have any solutions for all the many problems our elected officials face, no crystal ball to give me a better answer to local, national or global affairs. All I can do is to try to select someone to address those affairs who isn't the least common denominator in the political arena.

Can you imagine the frustration of the election night newscasters if there wasn't any videotape of NOTA for broadcasting a sound byte? Can you imagine the dismay of the newspaper analysts on the "eve of" without an exclusive interview from NOTA? Can you imagine the electioneering we wouldn't have to fund if NOTA were our choice?

Oh, pipe dreams, for sure. but some years it seems such a delightful one. Sometimes there is just that devil in me. Some year I just may write in on the bottom of the ballot, None Of The Above, to show my displeasure.

Probably my vote would then be invalid, but one vote won't be missed. Or maybe it would. The ghost of grandpa is watching. Hmmmmmm.

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