Thursday, October 14, 2010

Early Voting

I voted this afternoon. Yes, it's only October 14 - a full 19 days before "Election Day." It was a pleasant experience - walking through the pretty courtyard to and from the County Building, learning how to navigate the ballot computer screen, bonding with my new state, without any of the long lines and delays sometimes associated with the process. Of all the reasons for voting, bonding with my new state was undoubtedly my main motive for voting. But then voting for me has always been primarily a privileged civic ritual, which signifies a connection with and participation in the larger society, both national and local.
I think I develped that symbolic sensitivity about voting quite early on - probably from accompanying my parents to the polls on crisp autum days 50+ years ago. That was long before I had learned any political theory to wrap my feelings about voting in and certainly way before being exposed rational choice models that would more likely impress upon one how ultimately "irrational" it is to vote. That's just as well, since I have never expected my one ballot to be the decisive vote. In fact, most of the elections I have ever voted in were foregone conclusions. Few districts are "swing" districts anymore. My home state, especially in more recent years, has leaned reliably toward one party, making the final outcome of the ballot seldom in doubt. Even in hotly contested Presidential elections, I could safely predict in advance which candidate would win my state's electoral votes. So voting has always been more about participating in the process, bonding with my fellow-citizens, and adding legitimacy to whichever party gets the mandate to govern.
But what about Early Voting? Can the symbolic resonance of partipating in the electoral process survive being reduced to what seems like yet another convenience-store transaction? Of course, there can be good reasons for Early Voting. It wasn't narcissistic self-absortion that motivated me to seek the most convenient date and time to vote. The fact is that I will be away on November 2. So, to vote at all, I must either file for an absentee ballot (a more cumbersome process) or vote early. Still, as with anything else that has - or once had - a communitarian context and singificance, when we align the civic ritual of voting with individual timetables rather than a common calendar, do we perhaps run the risk of losing even more of what little we have left of a once vibrant civic culture?

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