A young man’s quest to vote in his first Presidential election

8 Nov

This is the story of my son Joel, who, despite some poor planning on both his part and the part of his parents, still managed to vote on Tuesday in his first ever Presidential election.

[Author’s note:  I published this story yesterday in a bit longer form, but the title and the first couple of paragraphs had folks who are feeling remorse about the outcome of  Tuesday’s election reacting wrongly about the article.  Therefore, I’m republishing today under a new title to make sure the story is clear.]

I am always and continually in awe of the democratic process in the US, especially the process for choosing a President. While I firmly believe that our campaign process is seriously flawed, and the existence of the Super PAC/Citizens United money has absolutely corrupted the process, that said it is still stunning that a country of 350 million people can, in the space of about 18 hours, all vote, have the vast majority of the votes counted, and 95% of the time, have a decision as to who the winner is. That is truly a great feat and it is something that the rest of the world admires about the USA.

The right to vote is absolutely sacred in the United States. It is our birthright: every one of us of more than voting age can remember stepping into that voting booth the first time and voting, and you can REALLY remember the first time you voted for a President. My first Presidential election was the 1980 election – Ronald Reagan was the Republican nominee (after a big convention fight), and the incumbent Democratic nominee was President Jimmy Carter. Believe it or not, I was a Republican back then – a product of my upbringing for sure. But I campaigned for Reagan on campus, and when I stepped into the voting booth on that first Tuesday of November, 1980, I had chills and goosebumps.

I have felt those chills and goosebumps every time I’ve voted in a Presidential election since. Even when I’m not terribly enamored of the choice on the ballot (I still wonder why the hell the Democrats nominated John Kerry in 2004), I still feel the thrill of democracy. And I felt it again Tuesday when I stepped up into the booth and voted for whom and for what I believe in.

My son Joel, who is away at University of Illinois, in Champaign/Urbana IL (or “Chambana” as we like to call it), called me about 1:30 PM on election day. I could hear the concern and dejection in his voice. He said “Do you think there’s any way I could get home to vote?” Umm … wow … nothing like a two-outs in the bottom of the ninth inning play! We shared together how both he and my wife and I had screwed up in not making arrangements for him to have an absentee ballot or to vote early or something. He told me there was a bus that could get him into downtown Chicago at 5:45 but I told him that wouldn’t work as his polling place was 35 miles from there in Buffalo Grove, in rainy rush hour traffic. Not a chance we’d make it by 7:00 PM and that was assuming his bus was on time, which it would certainly not be.

He hung up and a few seconds later I called him back and said “Have you checked every bus line?” He had not – there was one line he hadn’t checked that runs to the Chicago area: “LEX” or the Lincoln Express line, that he hates as their busses are stinking pieces of junk, but he said “I’ll check LEX.” He called me 10 minutes later to say he had the ticket and was headed to the bus stop. It would arrive at Woodfield Mall (about 20 minutes away) at 6:10 PM. Game on.

I called Robin and she just laughed – she knows that when our son sets his mind on doing something, it happens come hell or high water. Additionally, our son Joel is also blessed with a heaping helping of Karma. Generally speaking, things just work out for him – as my father-in-law likes to say “The universe works for Joel.” If there is luck to be had, it generally falls well for Joel.

We kept in touch over the next 3 ½ hours – the bus had to go from Champaign/Urbana to Bloomington/Normal to pick up passengers there, then north to Chicago. And it was raining. Oh boy, this might be close. At 5:30 PM, they were into the Chicago area, crossing over I-80 on I-55. Then they hit traffic near where the bus would leave I-55 for I-355 to the Northwest ‘burbs. Uh oh.  But, they quickly cleared that and soldiered on, stopping first at Woodridge at a mall there to let off passengers, then onwards to Woodfield mall where I was waiting. They pulled into Woodfield at 6:32 PM. It’s dark, and rainy and without traffic, we’ve got a 20 minute drive. This is going to be close.

Luckily, with a bunch of really lucky stoplight catches, we jumped on the expressway, and I did my best “point and squirt” action through the traffic to get into the fast lane and cranked our ancient minivan as fast we could safely go. We pulled into the polling place, Grace Lutheran Church at 6:56 PM – 4 minutes to spare. He was the last person to vote Tuesday at that polling place.

As we walked out, he was all smiles. We stopped and got the picture below. Then he shared with me another “the universe works for Joel” moment – the bus he was on was SUPPOSED to go to O’Hare Airport from Woodridge before stopping at Woodfield. If that had happened, we’d have missed by an hour. But there were 9 passengers headed to Woodfield and only one for O’Hare and that passenger was OK with being the last to get dropped off. Amazing.

I am absolutely full of pride at how much my son valued his right to vote – so much so that he spent all afternoon riding a bus from Central Illinois to arrive just in the nick of time to vote. We came home afterwards, had a wonderful family dinner and watched the election returns together. It was a great night, made 10 times better by being able to share it with him.

I am reminded of something my high school biology teacher (“Jungle Jim” at Newton High School) once said to me – it was in the context of managing to revive a plant that looked otherwise dead by simply watering it religiously for a few days. He said “don’t ever deny the desire of something that is alive to continue to live.” He felt it applies to plants, to animals, to humans, to every living thing.

I would add to that: Don’t deny the desire of an American to participate in democracy. Especially when when that American is my son.

Joel at the polling place at 7:00 PM, Tuesday, November 6th, 2012. Immediately after voting:

As you were,

Stew

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One Response to “A young man’s quest to vote in his first Presidential election”

  1. J. Malkin November 8, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    This story made me laugh a bit, but great to read! I am glad it all worked out and that Joel was able to vote! If I were in his shoes, Mitzi and the Doc would have said better luck in 4 years. I guess a 4 hour commute can change the ballgame, but Chambana leaves hope! I was able to send my absentee ballot in, but had a challenge with it! They sent me a letter saying my signatures didn’t match between my registration from 2010 and the form I filled out in 2012. Cut the timing awfully close, but sent my ballot in on the 2nd!
    Decmocracy at its finest! 🙂
    Hope all is well!
    Jordyn

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