Rock the vote, but brush your teeth first

Posted: Friday, October 08, 2004

Low Tide By Brandon Loomis

I am under strict orders not to discourage or disparage voting or voters.

Call it censorship. I do. Or call it good business: How would it look if a guy who sits on the newspaper's editorial board - voting on endorsements for candidates and weighty things like school construction - came out as a godless anarchist and said voting is for sissies? Whatever you call it, I've been asked to say only nice things about the vote, or not to say anything at all. I have chosen mostly the former.

Last week I played devil's advocate with friends and colleagues and questioned the value of their votes. All of them were appalled. Each stared blankly, or made a scrunchy face to indicate my madness (I get that a lot), and asked what anyone could possibly have against voting. Some went further and said it was more than privilege, but an obligation, and that perhaps I should renounce my citizenship if I wasn't going to participate. Ouch.

I followed up this week and found that, among the half-dozen who harangued me over questioning the vote, two voted in Tuesday's Juneau municipal elections. Not bad, I guess. That's a 33.33-percent turnout among the true believers - nearly identical to the city's overall 32.75 percent turnout among registered voters. There's hope for our republic.

For the record, I tried to vote. I went to my precinct about a half hour before closing. Procrastination has long been my mother of invention, but it didn't work for me this time. I registered just last week, not understanding that the Oct. 3 registration deadline applied only to the Nov. 2 general election. So, unless there's an IQ test for the ballot, I can and will vote in the state and national elections, but had to skip this round. It is good that no one and nothing lost by one vote.

Still, it's honestly getting harder for me to rise to the occasion and get a warm feeling when I vote. You'd think it would be the other way - that this supposedly being the most important presidential election since 1860, following a too-close-to-call 2000 election, would inspire rather than inhibit civic activism. But I grow morose with age.

We start out, those of us who vote, with childhood indoctrination in holding these feel-good truths to be self-evident: that it is important to brush at least twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste; that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the early bird catches the worm; that it is better to burn out than to fade away; that the vote is a sacred right and a solemn responsibility.

I won't dispute that any of those things is true. But voting usually feels like taking a sugar pill. It changes nothing but what's inside you: sugar. I have voted in four presidential elections, each in a different state, and none of those states has switched its allegiance in the Electoral College since 1964 - not even close.

The Electoral College, by the way, might have had some use back when the United States was setting up county seats within a day's buggy distance of each other, but we don't ride buggies to court anymore. For now the only way around it, short of temporarily changing residency, is to swap your vote, on your honor, with somebody in a swing state who wouldn't mind seeing your candidate win but wants to register a vote for a fringe candidate. You can do that this year if you're voting liberal by logging on to I'm not aware of a conservative counterpart in this election, but it would be nice to see one emerge. If we're to continue believing that voting is sacred, every vote should count.

I asked a friend down south why she votes and whether it isn't just to take a protest stand, given that her state typically - always - disagrees with her. She said no, she feels wonderful every time she walks into a polling station and enunciates the three words of her name to be sure that the officers know who she is and that no impostors have voted in her place. She said that even before the Florida debacle of 2000, and before she knew what a chad was, she inspected them carefully to make sure they were punched out entirely, and in the right spot. She said voting is exhilarating and she wishes she could do it more often.

I was about to say something sarcastic when she added that, beyond the presidential election, she'd be voting on a proposed gay marriage prohibition, and that it was going to be a close call. I stopped pretending that voting was silly. That's a matter of conscience, no matter which side you're on. So is Alaska's marijuana initiative. So was the ballot question about building a new high school. And so is, I suppose, a presidential election in which no Alaskan's vote will really count.

I'll vote on Nov. 2, moments after I brush my teeth.

• Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire and can be reached at

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