Voting–Fun Facts For Well-Versed Voters

Say the word “election,” and people’s eyes will glaze over at this point. The 2020 U.S. presidential election was divisive, ugly, and LONG. But there’s so much more to voting than the candidates and the issues. Let’s learn some interesting facts about voting that everyone can enjoy and even agree on.

There’s nothing new under the sun, and that includes voting. It’s not a modern process. The ancient Greeks utilized voting in running their affairs. Of course, they did not use voting machines and had never heard of a hanging chad. Their methods were much simpler.

A show of hands was one way the ancient Greeks voted; you can’t get much simpler than that. But raising hands did not provide much secrecy. A more private voting method was to use pebbles. (That’s the stones and not the sugary breakfast cereal.) Voters were issued a pebble to place in one of two urns to indicate their choice. When the voting was completed, the urns would be emptied and the pebbles counted to determine the winner. But keep an eye on those pebbles! The disgruntled supporters of the loser might decide to swipe them and fling them in protest.

The use of pebbles by the Greeks is reflected in modern English vocabulary. The word for the study of elections, psephology, derives from the Greek word for pebble, psephos. Now we all have a fancy academic word to drop at the next cocktail party we attend. Oh, wait. There’s a pandemic and social gatherings are discouraged. Try using the word in a post on social medial instead.

Italians were a bit more refined than the Greeks. They didn’t want to use pebbles off the ground to conduct important political business. Our term “ballot,” the paper on which a vote is marked, means “little ball” in Italian. In places like Venice where voting was done secretly, small balls were used to indicate a vote.

In our country, prior to the Revolutionary War (that’s before we were even a country), ballots were cast by voice. All in favor of that method say “Aye.” Voters would call out their selection at a polling place–typically a courthouse or a town hall. Having voters with loud voices would have been a plus back then.

Today five voting technologies are currently in use: hand-counted paper ballots; mechanical lever machines; punch cards; optically readable paper ballots; and electronic voting machines. The use of punch cards in Florida led to a massive controversy in the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Whether the presence of chads resulted in a valid vote was the subject of legal action. That’s chads as in pieces of paper still attached to the ballot after punching a selection and not men with that name.

While in 2020 the big question was who would be elected president, a more basic question is who would be doing the voting. Campaigns were launched, often involving celebrities such as Jane Fonda and Katy Perry, to encourage citizens to get out and vote. Some fail to take that civic responsibility seriously and don’t vote. But that’s the consequence of freedom in the U.S. Citizens must be allowed to choose to be irresponsible.

Getting the vote out is not as big an issue in some other countries. Take Australia, Belgium, and Turkey for instance. Voting is compulsory there. And by compulsory, I mean it is illegal not to show up and cast your vote. While compulsory voting does wonders for increasing the voter turnout rate, it hardly guarantees an informed electorate. To avoid a fine, some voters merely show up and vote randomly. They will check a box, any box, simply going through the motions of voting; no informed choice is actually made. I guess it would be “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe. Now I’ll have to vote for Joe.”

In the United States, it’s taken for granted women will be voting. Political commentators instead discuss which candidate is likely to get the female vote. Women voting is a more novel concept in other countries such as Saudi Arabia. It was not until 2015 that women were given the right to vote there.

The age of the U.S. presidential candidates garnered much attention in 2020 with both men in their 70’s. But what’s the voting age for those who decided the fate of these elderly politicians? A voting age is the minimum age a individual must attain before he is eligible to vote. That magic number in the U.S. is currently 18. Yup, it’s scary; teenagers have an actual say in the fate of our country.

But the voting age has not always been 18. The 14th Amendment, which was enacted back in 1868, gave men (but not women) the right to vote at age 21. The Vietnam War, though, caused much political and societal upheaval and provided the impetus for lowering the voting age to 18. Proponents of that change argued it was unfair 18 year olds could be drafted to serve their county and risk death in battle yet they could not vote. The rallying cry was “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Well, at least that was a bit more civil than the “Hell no, we won’t go” anti-draft chant.

The Voting Rights Act of 1970 reduced the voting age from 21 to 18 for national elections. The following year saw the ratification of the 26th Amendment which prohibited state and federal governments from using age to deny a U.S. citizen who was at least 18 the right to vote. As a result of that amendment, the voting age became 18 for all elections.

How low could the voting age go? Well, attempts have been made to lower the voting age to Sweet Sixteen. San Francisco’s voters on Tuesday failed to pass Proposition G, which would have allowed 16 year olds to vote in citywide elections. The rationale behind the campaign was that by that age teenagers can drive (we won’t speculate on how well) and may be working and paying taxes. A similar proposition in San Francisco was defeated in November 2016. Apparently 16 wasn’t so sweet for voters in ’16.

While Americans are clearly divided as to who should be their president, they can all agree on some things about voting. No one can deny that the process has been around for a long time and has progressed since the practices of ancient Rome. We may think the opposition candidate has rocks in his head, but at least we aren’t voting with pebbles. Woman can now have a say in how the country is run; the same is true for young men eligible to fight for their county. And with the tidbits presented in this post, voters young and old alike can have voting topics other than the results (do we even have them yet?) of the 2020 election to talk about.

Just WONDER-ing:

If you voted in the 2020 presidential election, what voting technology was utilized? Is 16 too young to be the voting age? Why or why not? Should voting be made mandatory in the U.S.?

Ballot Box Blues

Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, and boy does every U.S. citizen have something for which to be thankful–midterm elections are over. Yahoo! Now we can all eat dinner in peace without robocalls intruding. We can go back to watching commercials for the “little blue pill” rather than being assaulted by some venom-spewing political ad informing us that the candidate’s opponent is the devil incarnate who, if elected, will send his constituents to hell in a hand basket. Yup. There’s nothing civil about civics these days.

Once upon a time I was a naïve political science major in college. I pored over large and expensive textbooks in an effort to learn how our government works and of course to get an A in the course. Degree in hand, I innocently headed off to work at the State Capitol Building in Atlanta to participate in the hallowed government process. What a rude awakening I had. What is supposed to happen and what in reality happens are two different things. I was extremely disillusioned.

Fast forward to the 2018 midterm elections. A few years (OK, a lot of years) have passed, and politics is even worse than when I graduated from college.  But like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to observe our government at work. I just cannot look away. And as nauseating as watching the process is, it is my duty as a citizen to stay informed and to participate in elections.

No one likes a negative Nelly. On a positive note, a great development since my college graduation is the implementation of early voting. Voters are given ample opportunity to vote–not simply a twelve hour period on one specific day. No longer can you avoid voting because you have a headache on Election Day or because it’s raining and you can’t seem to find your umbrella to get to the polls.

Early voting is quite the hit. In fact, approximately 36 million voters voted early in this election. That figure led to predictions that voter turnout would be much higher than usual for the midterm elections. A “high” voter turnout is a relative term. Edison Media Research predicted in advance of the election that 45% of the eligible voting population would vote. We can’t even get 50% of eligible voters to vote and that’s good news??? SMH

And just who is doing this voting? Are they educating themselves on the issues? Reviewing the ballot in advance of voting? Um, probably not for a great many voters. Why do I come to that conclusion? According to news reports, “donde votar” (“where to vote” for those of you who do not habla espanol) was the top trending search (3,000% increase in search frequency) the morning of election day. I’m assuming that people who don’t even know where they are supposed to vote haven’t checked in advance to see what they are voting about either.

The midterm elections are aptly named in my opinion. All the divisiveness, negativity, and hounding of voters this go round has been a test of my patience. I am not sure that the average voter even knows what a midterm election is. Certainly all of those reading this blog post are aware that it is a general election held in November every four years near the midpoint of a president’s four year term. Such an election is typically viewed as a referendum on a sitting president and his party’s performance.

Much was at stake in this week’s midterm elections. Thirty-six states, including Florida, were holding gubernatorial elections. The Senate’s slim Republican majority of 51-49 was in jeopardy from a slate of Congressional races. Would the balance shift from red to blue?

A bunch of red appeared early on Election Day. Poll workers at a voting site  in Detroit, Michigan were left red in the face and voters were red with anger when an untold number of early morning voters  had to be turned away. Why? Oops. Poll workers couldn’t seem to locate the voting machines. Whew! They were finally found in a locked closet on site, but the polling place opened an hour and a half late. Even poll workers apparently put things in a “safe” place and then can’t remember where that “safe” place was.

Once voters made it to the polls and machines were in place for them to vote, on what were they voting? In addition to electing governors and congressmen, in Florida there were  a hefty number of constitutional amendments to consider. Most of the time such amendments boggle my mind–not that I cannot understand them, but that I cannot fathom why the issue has to be handled by a constitutional amendment. A constitution, by definition, is a body of fundamental laws for governing. Not that I don’t care about the plight of poor greyhounds who are being raced, but can’t we just pass a law to outlaw the sport?

The slate of amendments offered in Florida was affected by a severe case of bundling. Sure, it’s November, and in a northern state you might need to bundle up against the cold. Here in Florida the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) thought bundling of issues would be the way to go. Um, no. Bundling occurs when two or more unrelated issues are grouped together in one amendment. For example, Amendment 9 asked voters to approve a ban on offshore drilling and on indoor vaping. And the connection between those two is…..what? No wonder some people don’t want to go vote when they are asked to consider propositions that doesn’t make any sense.

The only bright spot in the election coverage was the burning question of whether Meghan Markle could/would vote in the midterm elections. She’s a royal and in the process of seeking British citizenship, so that question is thought-provoking. But I’ll bet that voters are more interested in what Meghan would wear to the polls (or to mark her absentee ballot) and if her baby bump was visible when she did so than the political ramifications of her voting.

I vote that we put the midterm elections, their confusion, their divisiveness, and their nonsense behind us. Enjoy dinnertime without annoying political calls. The next election will be here before we know it so we can all sing the next stanza of “Ballot Box Blues.”

Just WONDER-ing: Did you vote in the midterm elections? Did you vote early? Did the ability to vote early make it more likely you voted? Did political ads seem more divisive and negative in this election than in past elections?