I was 19 the first time I voted in a primary election.
My 18th birthday fell in an off-year, so I had to wait until the following year to be able to exercise my new right. By the time the primary came around, I was eager to get to the polls.
Immediately, I was disillusioned, not with the candidates but with the process itself.
I wanted to vote for Zell Miller, a Democrat, for governor, mainly because I wanted to fritter away a few dollars playing the lottery, which he’d promised. I also wanted to vote for Tommy Irwin for agriculture commissioner. Other than that, I wanted to vote Republican.
No can do, said the lady behind the table at my polling place. You can’t vote both tickets, she said.
I was indignant. Why was this person raining on my first voting parade? I’d done my research. I knew who I wanted to vote for, and she was telling me I couldn’t do that.
You can’t vote for a Democrat and a Republican in the same race, she said.
Well, no kidding. I was smart enough even at 19 to know that voting for two people from different parties running for the same office didn’t make any sense, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to vote one way in particular races, another way in others. I was only going to choose one person per office. Silly me, I just assumed that you could vote for a person and not a party.
Impossible, she said. You have to pick one ticket or the other. So I picked Democratic, voted for Zell and Tommy and went on my way, very frustrated.
I still don’t understand this arcane rule. Maybe it made sense back when we were still punching holes in a piece of paper. But in 2010 with electronic voting it should be as simple as a line of computer code.
There should be one consolidated ballot. If you choose a Republican for a particular office, then the computer immediately makes the Democratic selections for that office unavailable, allowing you to vote for only one person per office, regardless of party affiliation. Easy as pie.
With the state’s method, if I really want to vote for a Democrat in one race (like I did with Zell), then by default it reduces my choices in other races. By making me choose one ticket for all races, the state forces me to either vote for candidates I don’t want, or more likely, forces me to withhold my vote in some races entirely, which in essence makes me place more importance on one race over others.
The whole thing has always sounded like a violation of my voting rights to me. Maybe some of you legal scholars can enlighten me as to whether I have a case.
I suppose none of this makes sense to true-blue (or red) Democrats and Republicans who only vote the party line. But some of us want to vote for the person, not the party. The technology exists to make that possible. If there’s a good reason for not doing it I’d like to hear it.
E-mail Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays.