Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Civic Duty and Bureaucracy

Since I work at a non-profit devoted to youth civic engagement, I always find narratives about voting experiences interesting. Sometimes they are even entertaining. Such is the case with Professor Nokes' account of his first voting experience.

His narrative masterfully displays both what is right and what is wrong with modern electoral practices. What is right is that precincts are local and run by volunteers. You will often find that the old women (it is usually old women) who work at the polling centers are people you know, especially if you grew up in the neighborhood. If you are 18, and thus it is your first time voting, they are usually thrilled to see you and smile as you sign into the register. In fact, when I was a volunteer at a precinct (the one male and only person under 30) the only time the women I was working with didn't kibitz about what party the person was registered in was when the voter was a young whipper-snapper. The Republican woman who scowled at all the Yuppie Democrats who came in beamed when the pierced and tatooed gothic teen Democrat signed in, and the Democrat woman who murmered curses at all the suit wearing "Banker" Republicans was downright giddy when the chino wearing College Republican signed in. It was endearing to see that the health of our republic was more important to my co-volunteers than partisan politics. Partisan politics were important, but the regime moreso. The local volunteer aspect of voting is a joy to watch.

The Bureaucratic process, on the other hand, can be a nightmare. There are so many genuine concerns Clerks and Registrars need to address that the regulations often become cumbersome, or even an obstacle. In fact, since the New Millenium Young Voters Project found that potential young voters found the process of voting itself to be intimidating, I would posit that a good reason for this intimidation is the bureaucratic, solemn, and sterile feeling that has come into being. Sometimes our voting process is too much about the rules and not enough about the joy of both "ruling and being ruled in turn." Professor Nokes account of the County Clerk who states boldly that it is possible that the precinct line bisected the young Professor's house horizontally is a perfect example of the overly bureaucratic mindset.

We need rules to ensure fair elections, but we also need to remember that when we are voting we are "ruling" by selecting those who will make the rules, or in California by sometimes actually voting laws into existance.
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