16. Voting Habits

by H. W. Moss

Two people, a man and a woman, were at my front door the other day. I had never seen them before in my life, but they knew my name which they read from a large black book the man held in his hands. Turned out they were not Jehova’s Witnesses.

Yes?

Big smiles on both their faces. How are you going to vote in the coming election?

I responded by asking, “What is your name. And yours? After all, you know mine. Well, the answer to your question is: None of your damn business.”

And it is NOT.

My first flirtation with the privilege of casting a ballot was as a five-year-old. We had black and white television and the presidential race between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in November, 1952, was telecast much to my chagrin. I would have preferred watching re-runs of Hopalong Cassidy.

I asked my father who he was voting for and he said that was a private matter which he would not disclose to anyone. Not even Mom? Not even your mother.

When he wasn’t around (somehow even at that tender age I knew he would not have approved my pursuit of the question if he was within earshot), I asked my mother how she intended to vote.

She patiently explained that was none of my business and neither she nor my father told one another who they planned to vote for in an election. They did discuss issues, what the candidates stood for, whether candidates were honest or purely political animals, but never revealed for whom they intended to cast their vote.

Voting can be traced to 487 BCE Greece where Athenian citizens cast ballots to have another citizen banished. The etymology of the word “ostracism” is from the Greek ostrakon and means “judgment by shards.” Citizens scratched on oyster shells or pottery shards — or had scratched for them — the name of the person they wanted ostracized.

The top name on the list was exiled from Athens for ten years.

We have come a little further than that despite voting gaffes which surfaced in the presidential election of 2000.

America is quite proud of its secret ballot although few know its history. American political parties used to print their own ballots on different sizes, shapes and colors of paper in order to identify at a distance who cast what vote at the ballot box. There was nothing secret about this and the practice invited corruption as voters were intimidated and votes bought.

“Our system is based on the Australian Secret Ballot which, by the way, we no longer have,” observed my friend, Welcome Fraley recently. “The computerized system is no longer secret. I stood in the booth and said, where’s the curtain? You are to be unobservable when you vote, although I guess they could see your feet even with a curtain.”

The first legislature in the world to adopt secret balloting was Victoria State, Australia, in March, 1856. Until then, votes were counted by a show of hands or the reading of a person’s name alongside the candidate of choice. This practice led to the worst types of corruption. The purpose of the Australian ballot was to preserve secrecy and honesty in voting. Eventually, individual states in America adopted the secret method as well.

Elections are not truly free and are limited to those who have the right to vote. Women, for example, did not have that right in the United States until 1920. Even 19th Century enlightened Australians limited voting rights to male British subjects over the age of 21.

That certainly left out the Aborigine.

Here in America people aged 17 and younger constitute approximately 25 percent of the population, yet have no voice in politics.

Voting by its very nature lends itself to abuse. Standing in line subjects one to derision and beatings, actual denial of the right to vote and, all too recently in this country, absurdly difficult tests which were meant to selectively disqualify a voter.

Which brings me back to the two people at my door.

They knew who I was and wanted to know how I would vote. They carried the leaflets and posters for a specific candidate and there was little doubt they wanted to influence my decision in favor of their politician.

I totally disapprove of this kind of jingoistic electioneering and question the tactic of having my name and address in their hands when I have no affiliation with them or their campaign.

If they were to poll me anonymously, I might (and might not) tell the truth. However, who I vote for is protected by the secret ballot and is none of their damn business.

Now, let’s scratch some names on some pieces of pottery for banishment. I’ll start with the two at my door.