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Voting Alone

by Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
posted October 28, 1998

Tamara KeithA little over a year ago my legal rights expanded exponentially. I turned 18 years of age. As an official adult I was suddenly able to speak for myself, sign for myself, run up an obscene amount of credit card debt in my own name, join the military, get a tattoo, pierce my belly button, smoke cigarettes, buy lottery tickets, rent videos from the little room behind the curtain, get into trendy dance clubs and register to vote. Of all these adult activities, voting was the only one with any real appeal.

Politically active as a young child, I was aware of the electoral process before I could tie my shoes. I went to political rallies atop my father's shoulders before I could talk, and starting in second grade I held mini-protests in my front yard when I saw something going down that I didn't agree with.

For years I was content to go into the voting booth with my parents on Election Day. They would pick me up and let me punch the holes for the candidates they wanted to elect. It was almost like I was actually voting. Then one year I went to the polling center with my mother and was told that I was too old to go into the booth. The volunteer kindly said, "you'll just have to wait until you turn 18, sweetie." Now, from where she was sitting, on the far side of 70 years old, I guess 10 years didn't seem like the lifetime it did to me.

Although I couldn't vote, I still paid particular attention to presidential elections. In '92 I was especially aware of what was going on in each race, I made my decisions about the candidates, and I got yard signs, buttons and bumper stickers from their headquarters. On election night I watched Tom Brokaw announce the results on my friend's big-screen television. It was exciting to see my candidates win, but it bothered me to know that I personally had very little to do with it. Sure, I had shown my support, but it wasn't the same as actually voting.

When I came to Cal in '96 the campus was all abuzz with pre-election excitement. I felt totally left out because I was only 16 years old. It was like all of America was having one big party and I was just standing on the sidelines. When I finally turned 18, I registered to vote immediately and then had to wait for another 10 months to cast my first ballot.

Most of my friends turned 18 long before I did. All of them have credit cards, several are chain smokers, one joined the military, no tattoos yet, but two pierced their belly buttons. Unfortunately none have taken the time to step into a voting booth. Some say their vote doesn't count, others say it's too much work to find their polling station and others don't even seem to realize there's an election next week.

I had hoped to go over the sample ballot and debate the big issues with my friends before the election, but now it looks like I will be making my decisions with my parents.


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