|Let Election Reform Begin in the Voting Booth
Doodle, your first vote is an awful thing to waste. Give it some thought.
-Clara Clark Burton: 1946
As the election of 2000 approaches, I think of those words penned by my grandmother 54 years ago in response to a letter I had mailed to inform her that I was voting for Henry A. Wallace for president. My first time ever in a voting booth, and I acknowledged it would be a wasted vote.
Progressive Party candidate Henry A. Wallace didn't have a chance, and I had conceded as much, but I was at the time a young, headstrong flaming liberal upset with Harry Truman for vetoing the Taft-Hartley Bill. Tom Dewey was too conservative, too slick, too righteous, too confident. And what Vermonter could cast a ballot for the other prominent option at the time, the States Rights Party of the South?
Grandma's return letter arrived several days before the election, but being a 22-year-old know-it-all ambitious, budding radio station news editor, I didn't give it much thought before the big day came and I put a checkmark alongside Henry Wallace's name on the paper ballot handed me at the polls in Montpelier, Vt.
Remember President Dewey?
My first vote, and not only was it wasted, but it was wrong, a foolish mistake. That night as the election returns started to come via the AP teletype in the newsroom where I was editing them for announcers to broadcast, a tidal wave was building for Dewey across the nation. He seemed a sure winner, and that got me to pondering Grandma's advice.
Just before midnight came the report from New York: Dewey had won the state, and Wallace took enough of the non-conservative vote to deprive Truman of the most electoral votes of any individual state in the nation. Harry didn't have a chance.
Anger at oneself is the worst of angers. The large scissors I used for cutting and pasting wire reports flew from my hands across my office and crashed into the wall to leave a permanent reminder of my folly. Others in the neighboring state had done as I had: Wasted a vote. Grandma was right. Why hadn't I considered her plea?
As the night rolled on, Dewey increased his lead to add to my despair. It was a long, frustrating night; the clattering AP wire machine carried observation after observation from analysts and pundits about the coming change in administration: everything but a concession from Harry Truman, who had gone to bed early.
It was somewhere around 3 or 4am as more western states checked in that Truman began to chip into the seemingly invincible Dewey lead. It was almost 8am when the California vote was tallied. It was close, but for Truman, and enough to put him over the top.
A night to remember, and I always have remembered that November night 52 years ago. I have never since missed an election, never wasted a vote. It was one of the greatest lessons of many that Grandma, once a school teacher in the wastelands of western Iowa in the late 1800s, taught me.
Time to Waste a Vote?
As Election Day 2000 approaches, I wish Grandma was around. I need guidance. Can it be the time has come to waste a vote? I'm sure that many Americans are in the same predicament.
Not to vote at all is the biggest waste, an easy way out. I can't go that route, but what to do once in the voting booth Tuesday? From the daily press, the radio, the television and what people say, one would think there are just two presidential candidates, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Now to my way of thinking that's not much of a choice. But what really do we know - not think we know - about the other candidates? Not much unless we have the time, the know-how and a computer to ferret out the information from websites.
The much heralded debates were restricted to Gore and Bush despite budding yet serious interest in others who are more than the usual token candidates, especially Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan. Which, I might add was enough to convince me - after much personal deliberation - to boycott all three debates. It didn't seem fair, and I'm among those gullible enough to think that to all legitimate candidates the election process should be fair and square.
Here's the Bi-Partisan Commission on Presidential Debates donating free and expensive air time to the Big Two, the pair that has raised and spent obscene amounts of dollars from special interests and who get virtually all the newspaper space and newscast attention - as if we don't know too much about them already.
"Bi-Partisan?" Baloney. What a self-perpetuating bunch we have in this two-party system. They get the press, so they get the money, which gets them more press, which gets them more money, and so it goes on and on. To top it all off, they tell us they're for election reform, they're for dismantling the very bandwagon they're driving.
And how can we kick them off that bandwagon when all the other candidates are sidetracked, shoved into obscurity, even oblivion. Those who have, have. Those who don't have, don't have - and won't have.
We're like a kid whose mother tells him he has two choices for dinner: tripe or blood sausage, no mention of steak and lobster. We must choose between what's on the menu or not pull up a chair.
Our tripe and blood sausage are two politicians who displayed expertise in only two things, raising funds and spending them. The more they raise and spend, the more they get in matching funds from us, the taxpayers. Regardless of who wins, are we expected to believe election reform is coming, and not just for the top spot, but also for the representatives, senators, governors and others who probably spend more time soliciting funds than trending to the duties and obligations they are sworn to uphold.
I have my own opinion of which of the two is less undesirable - no need to go into that - but it's practically a toss-up. In a way, isn't support of the lesser of two evils a wasted vote?
Would This Be a Wasted Vote?
Things have changed since Grandma passed away in 1996 well into her 90s, and I'm wondering what her advice would be if I told her I was seriously considering wasting another vote by casting a ballot for a third-party candidate who has always fought for the little guy, for consumers, the environment and who has lived like a little guy, has fought the big interests and who, I am convinced, truly believes in not only election reform but in putting an end to the blatant buying of votes.
Would that be a wasted vote? Is a vote wasted when one tries to say via the ballot, "I've had enough?" How else can we change a system unless it becomes obvious by our votes that the bandwagon is going to be traded in for a new model if they don't offer us something better.
How else can we make it plain our interest in government goes beyond how much cash stacks up in our retirement funds and other securities - or how much we get from government? How else can we make it plain that we, the middle class, want morality, compassion, common sense and responsiveness from our government.
So do I waste a vote? If Grandma were still around, I would quote from the Book of Matthew: "To what purpose is this waste?" I think she might understand the purpose; she might even urge me on. And if enough others followed suit, there would be no waste. Enough said...