Less than half of eligible voters cast ballots in our state primary this year. What kept the voters away? A long ballot? Not enough time? On vacation? Thinking it didn’t matter?
Voting for me is automatic. So far as I know, my parents never campaigned for a candidate or contributed to a political party, but they voted in every election for which they were eligible. They volunteered as workers at my school, the neighborhood polling place, on voting day. We discussed candidates around the supper table, never with bitterness or hatred but with serious questions and opinions. Who was the best candidate? Why? What incumbents had done a good job and should be reelected or hadn’t and should be voted out of office? My dad, who never finished high school but loved history, provided background on the political development of our country.
Voting and taking an interest in elections seemed as natural as going to church. I’ve voted ever since I was eligible. Many of my votes were absentee because I worked and lived overseas, places like Saudi Arabia and North Africa. As a U.S. consular officer, I notarized ballots of many overseas Americans.
A local employee who worked for me in Saudi Arabia once asked if he could see my ballot that had just arrived. To him, unable to vote in free elections as I was, I suppose it seemed as priceless as a valuable manuscript. He treated it almost with reverence.
Perhaps that’s the reason I can’t understand why my fellow citizens don’t exercise this wonderful privilege that allows them to elect their leaders. Perhaps they would if they’d lived in countries where the citizens have no elected leaders.
Ann Gaylia O'Barr, author of Singing in Babylon, Searching for Home, Quiet Deception, Distant Thunder and A Sense of Mission (all OakTara), was a Foreign Service Officer in the United States Department of State from 1990 to 2004. Assignments included tours in U.S. embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia (Jeddah and Dhahran), Algeria, Canada, Tunisia, and Washington, D.C. (Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and Bureau of Intelligence and Research).