Many years ago, the best newsman I ever knew wrote the best election story I ever read.
Seems one of our local elections had been decided by a single vote, so my colleague somehow found out about an old man who had been in the hospital on Election Day but was so determined to vote that he overrode his doctor’s orders and checked out long enough to cast his ballot in person.
That old man was the deciding vote and he was proud to find that out from our reporter.
I am an enthusiastic voter. In the 31 years I’ve been allowed to cast a ballot I’ve missed just one election, to the best of my memory. It was some obscure off-year primary election in Virginia, which in true contrarian style insists on electing local officials in odd years rather than even ones like most everyone else.
I still feel bad about missing that election, even though 25 years later I don’t have the faintest memory of what offices were on the ballot.
All in all, I still prefer showing up at a polling place and pulling a lever in person on Election Day, but I am coming around to the convenience of mail-in ballots. Since arriving in Napa County, I’ve come to enjoy sitting in my kitchen carefully marking the little rectangles on the ballot. It takes me back to those old Scantron test sheets from high school.
This year was different, though. My ballot arrived last week in a surprisingly thick packet. Two voter guides arrived around the same time, the state and local books, totaling something like 300 pages together.
It was kind of intimidating. Very intimidating, in fact.
I swallowed hard and opened my envelope, intending to devote some time to my civic duty while dinner was cooking. Out popped two improbably long voting cards. My mind reeled and I quickly folded them up, stuffed them back in the envelope and tossed them on my desk for later consideration.
They’re still sitting there unmolested a week later.
What worries me is that if even a pathologically devoted voter like me can be discouraged by the titanic pile of choices on the ballot, then many, many more casual voters might just simply throw up their hands in disgust and not vote at all.
That would be a real pity, because there are many issues at stake that are as weighty as the ballot itself, from the White House down to your local school board. The ballot measures include local and state taxes, marijuana legalization, the fate of the death penalty and many more, from the profound to the absurd.
This weekend I am going to make another stab at the ballot. I am determined not to let the size of the ballot, or the profoundly discouraging state of the national election, deter me from having my voice. It’s worth the time and aggravation this ballot is going to require.
I hope you will do the same. All elections matter, but this election feels like it matters even more, nationally, statewide, and locally.
And if you say your vote doesn’t matter, or ask what difference it makes if you sit this year out or not, I have an easy answer.
Remember that old man that my colleague interviewed many years ago: in the days before mail-in ballots or easy absentee voting, he dragged himself off his sick bed and into a polling place to make himself heard.
And his side won by one vote.
Note: The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 24. Visit RegisterToVote.ca.gov to register online. Paper voter registration forms are available at the county elections office, libraries, the Department of Motor Vehicles office, or U.S. post offices. Paper voter registration forms must be postmarked on or before the Oct. 24 deadline.