"There is but one unconditional commandment, that we should seek incessantly ...to vote and act as to bring about the very largest total universe of good which we can see."
- William James
They may not seem related to anyone else, but two recent experiences suggest to me a parallel between the two.
"What number am I?" I asked the lifeguard as I limped from the water - and away from the jellyfish that had wrapped its fiery tentacles around my leg and turned my mid-morning swim into a search for relief from the stinging pain.
"Go back to the water," the lifeguard said, "and rub wet sand over the affected area to remove the stingers. Then come back and I'll spray your leg with vinegar and salt water to relieve the pain. And, oh, you're No. 10 today."
"What number am I?" I asked the poll worker as I arrived about mid-morning to vote in the Aug. 8 run-off election. I was the fourth person in the room - three poll workers and myself.
"You're number 11," the lady said sheepishly.
"Do you know how many registered voters there are in this precinct?" I was on an inquisitive roll.
I did the math, and predicted at that rate how many more likely voters there would be during the other three quarters of the day. Multiplying 11 by four, I guessed 33 more, unless there was an after-work rush by other conscientious citizens. I wasn't far off.
"Yes, I can tell you that," answered Nancy Gay at the Board of Elections office the next day. "In that precinct you were one of 38." That's about three an hour, I calculated. Nancy had another set of figures.
"Don't people realize it costs just as much to hold an election for a few voters as it does for many times that number?"
Thinking back to my jellyfish experience, I estimated there might have been 100 people in the water with me that day. Doing the math again and using the same number and quarter-of-the-day time period, I discovered the jellyfish percentage was close to 10 percent of the potential victims, while my voter percentage was about .01.
Granted, this election was anything but a blockbuster event. No local names were on the ballot, the only Republican races to be decided - commissioner of agriculture and secretary of state - seemed to be between candidates of equal capability, and we were all sick to death of the incessant phone calls and crucify-the-other-guy brochures that filled our mailboxes for weeks.
To tell the truth, I might not have bothered to vote, either, if my polling site hadn't been almost across the street from my house, or if I weren't in that class of compulsively conscientious citizens I've just mentioned and didn't want to sully my perfect attendance record at the polls.
Although, for most of us, this election was little more than an afterthought, November is coming, preparations for another primary and general election will begin soon after that, and even on a popular election day, the numbers are nothing to boast about. So how do we get the percentages up, lure more voters to the polls? I'll be the first one to say the responsibility does not lie with the voters alone.
Those calls; those mud-slinging ads from the candidates, their opponents and "friends"; and, at least for me, the sinful amount of money spent just to win a position with a salary near my low precinct turnout of .01 percent in return; all are terrible turn-offs for one of the most precious rights we citizens of a democratic country have at our disposal.
In my naive world, candidates would agree to a campaign spending cap, present information only about themselves in their ads, and resist all temptation to tear their opponents apart. Likewise, voters would become well informed, make wise decisions and, above all, vote.
Considering our already badly sullied election process, none of this may happen in our imperfect world. But I assure you, taking the time to participate in any election is a lot less painful than being attacked by a jellyfish. Concerning the latter, I can remedy that problem with Benadryl and antiseptic cream, and by staying out of the ocean.
On the contrary, for a better-led, less-hostile electorate, the correct response is to step into the voting booth.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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