When to vote, oh, when to vote?

Yesterday I got a phone call from a real live person reminding me I can now vote early in North Carolina. This guy was knowledgeable enough to tell me the location of the nearest polling place, as well as its hours (he then went on a long diatribe about why he was voting for Bush, but hey, his intentions were at least somewhat honorable…).

Wouldn’t it be nice just to get my Civic Duty out of the way? Why not pop on down to the library and just get it over with? After all, I doubt I’m going to change my vote on the Big Issues between now and the election. But then again, there are always fifteen judges and a passle of local officials like the Watershed Inspector up for election as well. You can never have enough time to vet out a Watershed Inspector’s qualifications, you know.

Then there’s the question of the lines. My wife has heard there are huge lines down at the library, that people are showing up every day at 9:00 and the polls don’t even open until 11:00. Yeesh! At least on election day, the polls open ungodly early, so maybe things won’t be so crowded then.

So now I’m wishy-washy. If someone as opinionated about me is wishy-washy about when to vote, imagine how the “undecideds” feel now. Not only do they have to make the unbearable decision about who to vote for, they also have to decide when to vote.

It’s times like these that suggest to me that maybe we should go to a national absentee ballot. Then when we read in the local paper that Judge Jones is a jerk on abortion rights, we can scratch him off the list right away. When we find out the Watershed Inspector candidate works for an asbestos manufacturer, we can cast our vote for the other fellow, just as we’re thinking about it. There’s no feeling worse than standing in the voting booth with a vague recollection that one of the two Watershed Inspector candidates works for an asbestos company, but you can’t remember which one it was. An absentee ballot allows you to take some time making each decision, to fill it in as you gain information.

Yes, I realize I could (and should) be doing that on my own as the election approaches. I even went to my local election board web site and downloaded a list of candidates. Problem was, it was 23 pages long (mostly due to bad formatting), and included huge blocks of color: it would probably cost $20 in ink just to print the thing. Then and there I made the principled decision that choosing a candidate should not involve such a major subsidy to the Canon Bubblejet corporate luxury car fund.

The rest of the country might be surprised to know that in Washington State, where I grew up, the state board of elections actually mails each voter a guide to all the candidates, all the way down to the Watershed Inspector, which even includes their position statements. When I moved to Chicago for college, I was shocked to learn that Illinois didn’t do this. Now, having lived in New York and North Carolina, I realize that most states probably don’t. I imagine most voters show up at the booths not even knowing who most of the candidates are (though who am I kidding: this is probably true in Washington as well).

Washington also encourages absentee voting, and the result is they expect an 84 percent turnout rate this year, most of them voting absentee. I suspect in North Carolina, 84 percent of registered voters will be pissed at how long the lines are, with the result that we’ll be lucky to get a 60 percent turnout. Meanwhile in Washington, voters can fill in their absentee ballots at their leisure, latte in one hand, voter guide in the other.

Here in North Carolina, I’m still trying to get this Bush fanatic off the phone. He might feel “safer” under George Bush, but if he doesn’t shut up soon, I’m going to rustle up a posse and launch a full frontal assault on his house.

And I still haven’t decided who to pick for Watershed Inspector.

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