I asked for a mail-in ballot. I initially thought I wanted to vote by mail. Being over a certain age and with a wild variety of health issues, it just seemed safer. But the more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea. Not because of voter fraud or fears of what someone in the post office will do to my ballot — I mean, get real. I have yet to see a mail carrier who seemed to want to do anything but deliver the mail and get home to his or her family. While Alaska has certainly seen some scummy postmasters and mistresses who have mishandled the mail, that has more to do with greed than politics. The Alaska mail is safe. If not, why would the state send us our Permanent Fund dividend check through it?
But I digress. I have decided to vote in person because I want to vote in person. For me, this has been a ritual of adult life since I first got the right to vote when I turned 21. Sadly, I missed the joy of the 26th Amendment allowing me to vote at 18. Every election day, I go to the polls and vote for my candidates. Whether they win or not is less important at that point than the actual act of voting. There is something very satisfying about walking in, pulling out my ID, getting my ballot and then putting it in the machine after marking my preferences. I feel more American at that moment than I do at any other time. To my mind, that’s when the fireworks should be happening, even more than on the Fourth of July.
Given my family’s immigrant background, the importance of voting was always impressed on me, both in school and at home where half the people spoke with Italian accents. Voting was something they’d never had the privilege of experiencing before. Choosing who ruled you was a foreign concept to immigrants from countries where kings ruled. But my family quickly caught on.
Every year we go from day to day enjoying what this country has to offer but rarely thinking about what has gone into creating a country that affords us such freedom and advantages. It might be hard to remember about now with all the screaming and hate and anger that seems to be free-floating through our country. But despite it all, America is still a pretty cool place. And the only way it stays like that is if we vote.
Now I could bring out the pictures we see every year of people in remote countries standing in line in the sun or rain for days in order to vote. But those pictures don’t seem to inspire very many Americans. If you’ve never known want, it is hard to miss it. If you’ve always lived with the vote, it’s hard to imagine life without it. I can tell you right now — as can most of world history — that if we don’t take responsibility for our country, someone else will.
So my friend Elaine and I are going to walk arm in arm — figuratively, of course — into the polling place, masks on and voter ID at the ready. We are going to put our ballots in the ballot box like we each have done for the majority of our adult lives. And as we leave, we will know the satisfaction that comes from doing our part for our country — a job we are only called on to do every four years, but one which is vital to America having a bright future nonetheless.
So no matter how the current political situation is making you feel, no matter how much you just want to put headphones on and sing songs from “Hamilton,” no matter how much you feel your country is slipping beyond your control, giving up is not an option. Go vote. Vote early. Vote by mail. Vote in person. Just vote. It’s the only thing your country really asks from you. It’s not too much to give back for all it gives us.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska columnist and author. Her book “Coming Into the City” is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.
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