A Non-Partisan Take on Election Day In-Person Voting

I’m not here to say I’m non-partisan. That doesn’t seem technically possible when actually voting in a two-party political system, unless someone is committed to writing in unaffiliated candidates. I’m here to say how excited in a completely non-partisan manner I am to vote in-person on Election Day.

(Note: My political leanings have changed over the years and rarely felt partisan in nature. Maybe this is thanks in part to growing up in a household with parents who openly supported different parties in a matter-of-fact, unemotional, proud-to-be-unique manner. We’re talking late-80s through the mid-90s, the time when such an opinion had its biggest impression on me as a young person developing my own political identity.)

1988. Michael Dukakis and the brutal messaging campaign run against him and my home state of Massachusetts, ahem, “Taxachusetts” stands out in memory from the first presidential election I vaguely remember as an eight year old.

1992. I admit to an unhealthy obsession with Ross Perot because he was different. I’ve always liked different. Plus, he had charts.

“Chicken Feathers, Deep Voodoo, and the American Dream” 

This year was also my first Election Day voting experience. I was twelve. Hear me out. My dad took me with him into the voting booth and let me choose. It was very satisfying to pull the little lever and feel the vibe of the line, room, the whole experience. Not sure if this was legal but I hope the statute of limitations is up on this. You wouldn’t be surprised to know “I” voted for Ross Perot. This will be the last name I drop in relation to a vote I actually cast. Coincidently, it would also be my last in-person vote for two decades.

In 1996 I remember Norm MacDonald’s Bob Dole SNL skits. I don’t recall that election being too fraught but I do remember reading Bill Clinton’s campaign book, Between Hope and History, and appreciating his soaring rhetoric and seemingly bipartisan focus.

By 2000 I was actually eligible to vote. The primary campaign between Al Gore and Bill Bradley and George W. Bush and John McCain caught my eye and I followed for the first time with a glee I had previously associated with devouring the NFL playoffs. By the time the actual campaign got underway in earnest, however, I was off in St. Petersburg, Russia for the year. It being 2000, I didn’t really have much access to U.S. media other than a once-a-week 30 minute stop by an internet cafe. I experienced that Election Day through a very remote lens. Even the Florida vote counting fiasco was something that felt like it happened to another country in a different era. But I remember feeling disgruntled by not being able to vote in person and I remember missing out on that moment.

By the beginning of 2004 I was in Rhode Island, where my parents moved in 2003 and still counts as home for any holidays. I had concluded my undergraduate studies — including that year in Russia — then added another year overseas in Estonia on a Fulbright student research fellowship. I was more than ready to get into the U.S. politics of the moment again. I followed news in a roughly non-partisan manner and genuinely did not know whom I was going to vote for until very late in the process. By the time Election Day actually rolled around, I had joined the Foreign Service and was down in Washington, D.C. for training and had to rely on an absentee ballot back to Rhode Island. It was the first time I was able to vote in the United States for president but in-person was still denied for me.

2008. Guess what? Overseas again. This time in the desert of south-central Iraq living on an Iraqi army base. Absentee for me. I will say that my personal voting preferences swung hard from one party to the other over the course of the primary season. I’d prefer not to get into specifics but I actively gave money and even helped campaign a bit for not one but two candidates in one party before switching hard and completely for the other party’s candidate. I love that that was a thing. It wasn’t unthinkable for that sort of switch to go down and even be discussed openly amongst friends and strangers alike.

2012. Yup. Absentee. From Latvia. And a Washington, D.C.-registered voter to boot. This was all well and good for electoral college representation. But not for much else.

2016. Finally, I was home in the United States of America. Not only that, but I was living and registered in Virginia. It thrilled me to line up and vote in person that Election Day morning in my neighborhood. I will admit to not loving my choices. For a split second while staring at my ballot — and even being asked if I needed any help when I sat for longer than I should have — I thought that we Evan Mc‘s should stick together when it came to voting, but in the end I’m glad I made a choice to vote for a major party candidate. It was through that day-of experience that I realized by 9:00 a.m. that something might be in the cards for a strange night of returns. If someone like me was conflicted, how was this going to play out nationwide?

I’m excited to vote in person on November 3, 2020. I am back in Virginia. (Odd that Virginia isn’t even a battleground state anymore, but that’s for a different discussion.) If you’ve read down this far you know why I didn’t even consider voting early or absentee despite an overwhelming societal push to do so. My wife did. Virginia made it abundantly easy. She even gave me a little grief for not joining her in avoiding any election day variables, from a busy day at work to COVID-19 issues. I have no idea when I’ll next be in the United States on Election Day with president on the ballot. The first Tuesday of November every four years. I want to see and feel and experience and remember. It doesn’t matter how long I stand in line. It doesn’t even technically matter which party I vote for. I’m not conflicted at all this year, however.

Epilogue: It definitely seems identity trumps ideology for most voters, with the possible exception of those who consider politics their avocation or hobby. Identity can come from family, region, church, wherever. Thanks to the New England-style upbringing I mention above, my personal identity has really focused on being non-partisan in overall approach — even when I find that this no longer honestly represents the political ideology I actively support.

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