Dysfunction at the polls

Posted: Wednesday, September 01, 2010

I'll start by saying this: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Democrat. But I'm not a Republican, either. No, I'm an independent.

I don't mean a member of the Independence Party, which gave us such esteemed statesmen as Jesse "The Body" Ventura. And I certainly don't mean the Alaskan Independence Party, which advocates seceding from the union and becoming our own country. Who wants to deal with currency exchange?

I'm an independent with a lowercase "i," a registered non-combatant, like Switzerland, except without the yodeling (okay, maybe a little yodeling). Dyed-in-the-wool, too. My family's been full of independents ever since we got off the boat from Eastern Europe (prior to that, I don't believe we had much choice).

At the risk of outing myself as a geek, I used to love accompanying my parents to our official polling place, the high school gymnasium up the street. Ah, the name checking and signature scrawling, the little American flags, the smell of sweat, sawdust and many other wonderful things to look forward to as a teenager. My sister and I would pull the ballot booth curtains and flick the voting machine switches, and if we seemed especially intrigued/cute/destructive, we could usually cadge a doughnut off an election volunteer.

But in New York, only members vote in party primaries. This effectively halved my potential for free baked goods; more than that, it means I never took part in a primary. I've never been in a caucus, either, although I've definitely fantasized about it.

And I continued the pattern even after moving to Alaska six election cycles ago, despite our declaration as an "open primary" state. Here, we're free to participate in either primary, regardless of affiliation. As such, voters habitually cross lines specifically to mess with their adversary's democratic process.

And while a peek at life from the other side might be enlightening - fun, even, like fantasy baseball camp or cross-dressing - voting in someone else's primary seems kind of shady.

Whether the tactic actually works, and it may - in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary, for instance, thousands of Democrats helped a certain hockey/grizzly mom beat the Spam out of a vastly unpopular incumbent - it strikes me as retrograde to the spirit of free elections.

And yet, upon discovering my political free agency, more than several people - liberal and conservative alike - suggested I vote in last Tuesday's primary, specifically to keep whatever unthinkably terrible thing from happening should whichever one of two Republican hopefuls make it to statewide U.S. Senate elections this November.

Now, I don't like being propositioned - another thing about registering independent, you don't get nearly as many political telemarketing calls. For this precise reason, I decided maybe I should vote in a primary this time. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was on full-time daddy duty that day, I was also looking for a toddler-friendly activity, preferably one involving the disbursement of stickers.)

Here's the thing, though: I wouldn't exercise my franchise out of malice. I was going to - gasp! - choose the person I thought would do the best job.

Unfortunately, I had no idea who that was. I wanted my first time to count for something, you know? I wasn't just going to throw my vote away.

Anyway, given one afternoon to educate myself, I went into full cramming mode, downed a Rock Star, popped a beta-blocker and keyed-in Wikipedia. Luckily, my daughter slept a whole hour, which is more than most Americans spend pondering campaign issues. Here's what I found out:

Did you know there's a Joe Miller the actor, Joe Miller the NASCAR driver, and several British cricketers named Joe Miller? Joe Miller the senatorial candidate shares a birthday with John Wilkes Booth, Young MC and Bono. His middle initial is "W." and he's originally from Kansas. Also, he maintains a perfect five o'clock shadow at every hour of the day.

By contrast, there's only one Lisa Murkowski, and she shares a birthday with Naomi Campbell and Apolo Anton Ohno. The daughter of a former vastly unpopular incumbent, she's now an incumbent herself (though still fairly popular). Her middle name is Ann, and I accidentally elbowed her several weeks ago at the Blueberry Festival in Ketchikan.

Anyway, that's as far as I researched before someone woke up demanding juice. Still, it was enough to base my decision on, especially considering whoever won could probably get Mike Huckabee's rock band to play at the victory party. I'd fly up to Anchorage for something like that.

So, little daughter in tow - now it's her turn to the close curtain, work the balloting mechanism - I voted in the now-historic Alaska Republican U.S. Senatorial primary. Of course, I won't disclose which candidate I chose (a gentleman doesn't vote and tell). Nor will I discuss my views concerning Democratic senatorial candidate Scott McAdams (his Wikipedia page doesn't list a date of birth, so I can't even tell you who he shares his birthday with - his staffers should really get on that).

I can say this, though: the fact that the race turned out so close, still undecided in fact, definitely makes me feel like my vote, the independent vote, still counts for something.

But do you want to know the weirdest thing about voting in Alaska? No doughnuts! What's the deal? You'd think someone would procure some federal funding for that.

Don Young, I'm looking at you.

• Slack Tide runs every other Wednesday; check out more of Kirsch's work at www.geoffkirsch.com.

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