Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Met a Virgin Voter! One Person, One Vote, Indeed!

I Met a Virgin Voter!
One Person One Vote Indeed!

Facing West

It was darn cold for an early spring evening. I had the top down on my T-Bird and I was busy singing along with The Boss at the top of my lugs. Darkness had fallen and I wondered for the tenth time if I really needed to do this. I’m not sure I can explain why I felt the need to participate in such a complicated process, especially in Tarrant County. I guess curiosity really did kill the cat.

Texas Democrats have an antiquated primary system. They call it the Texas Two-Step (of course they also use that name for a Lottery scratch off game). You vote in the actual primary in the daytime, and then attend a caucus in the evening. The votes in the primary determine how many voting delegates attend the county conference later in the month. The caucus elects the delegates…and…well, it’s something like that. I’ve been involved in politics all my life and I still don’t quite understand what it all means.

I’ve attended primary caucus’ in my district for years. It usually goes something like this: fifteen or twenty women (school teachers and retired government employees) show up and figure out how to divide up the delegate votes and then let the overachievers in the group volunteer to represent our area at the local conference. We would all pat ourselves on the back and break quickly for the door. Not this year.

To really appreciate this story, you would have to start earlier that day. I pride myself with being one of the very first people in my precinct to vote every year. That’s usually not hard if you’re a Democrat in Crowley Texas. So you can imagine my shock when I pulled up at the high school and couldn’t find a place to park. My first thought was that way too many teenagers had their own cars. Then I saw the line. I thought it had to be the Republican precinct or an awfully long line to see the principal. Wrong on both counts. I waited for almost 30 minutes to vote for my candidate. It was what happened in that line that brought me back for the caucus.

I met a virgin voter. He was a student at UTA and more excited than I can ever remember being about anything. By the time we got to the front of the line, everyone knew Kenny’s name. His smile was infectious and his enthusiasm was electric. He talked about how he had researched each of the candidates from both parties and visited hundreds of blogs. He was confident that he was making the right decision. Before he left, he hugged my neck and told me he would see me at the caucus. I was committed.

That night was total chaos. I had to park in a vacant field across the street and hike in the dark (along with a dozen or so other folks). My brain just wouldn’t process what I saw. The line snaked around the gym and spilled onto the lawn. It got colder as we waited to get in the door. The volunteers were overwhelmed. But laugher filled the night sky and I have to believe God laughed too. In the middle of all that noise, I heard a familiar voice, it was Kenny. He got the line moving, alright! He organized the process with the ease of a pro. By the time we all got seated in the auditorium order had been restored. The rest of the evening is still kind of a blur. Kenny, a school librarian, a retired postal worker, and a farmer took the lead. Within an hour, we had gotten the right number of delegates and had it all recorded for posterity. The best part of the evening came out of personal sacrifice. I recognized several of the women who normally looked forward to being a delegate to the county conference. This time would be different. Kenny had an idea. What if we picked the youngest person and the oldest person? Someone else suggested we include a first time voter and yet another person suggested the newest citizen.

As we nominated each person, I watched their whole persona change. They stood a little taller, smiled a little bigger and spoke with a little more confidence. Even the old standbys seemed excited to watch someone else take their place.

Over the next few months, Kenny kept me informed via email. He wrote me and told me that he would be waiting until Election Day to cast his vote. He wanted to be very traditional when he lost his virginity. I thought of him as I drove by our election center early this morning. A line of people had already formed by 8:00 a.m. I knew he was there charming the crowd. His own name will probably be on the ballot in a few years and I’ll be standing in line to vote.

I Met a Virgin Voter!
One Person One Vote Indeed!

Looking East

I sat at the kitchen table with my head in my hands. I had waited until the last minute to write my campaign speech for the big election at school. All our signs lined the walls of the high school hallways. All the flyers had been stuffed in lockers and attached to windshield wipers. I had smiled until my face hurt. Tomorrow would be my last chance to capture votes for Student Body Treasurer. The boy I was running against had been born and raised in Mineral Wells; I was one of the “outsiders”. Well, me and the hundreds of kids whose dads were stationed at Fort Walters. I couldn’t imagine what I could say that would convince my fellow students that it would be safe to elect a newcomer like me.

My Dad must have noticed my posture. He sat down with me and patted my back. “Having trouble deciding what to say?”

That was all I needed to start the waterworks. “I’m going to be humiliated.” It was, as usual, all about me.

Then he said the most logical thing. “There are over 1,000 kids in your school and every one of them has a vote.”

He was right. All of them had a vote! Not just the insiders, every single one of them. All the military brats would have a vote. All the poor kids would have a vote. And all the really cute boys would have a vote too. This just might work!

The next day, I covered all my bases. Lime green mini-dress and my stars and stripes headband, I was ready for my close up.

That morning at the assembly I spoke from my heart. I talked about moving to this remarkable town and about all the wonderful people I’d met since I’d been there. I talked about better support for the kids in school whose dads were serving in Vietnam. Then I talked about the pain of not fitting in, of being an “outsider”. When I finished my speech, silence filled a full 5 seconds of time. Then, to my surprise, everyone started to clap, including my opponent. He gave me a hug as I sat down beside him. It would be the beginning of a life long friendship.

I found out that day that all of us feel like outsiders at some point in our lives. I also found out that my Dad was one smart fellow. When our principal announced the results of the election that afternoon I discovered every kid in that school had a vote. One person, one vote, indeed!

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