My absentee ballot for the Republican presidential primary came in the mail today. I read it carefully because that's what the instructions told me to do, and I am an obedient subject of the greatest democracy on earth. Instruction #3 tells me to "Mark only the number of choices as indicated on the ballot."
Now, grammar is sometimes important. On the ballot are nine choices. Can I choose them all? Being a careful reader, I went to the ballot itself and read above the choices, "TO VOTE, COMPLETELY FILL IN THE OVAL NEXT TO YOUR CHOICE." I'm going to interpret this to mean CHOOSE ONE. But you just know that some people who do not read so carefully as I will choose two or more.
Instructions 2, 4 and 6 are related. Number 2 says, "Mark your ballot in secret. No one should help you unless you are blind, disabled or unable to read or write." This one annoyed me. I called my wife into the room.
"Sweetheart," I said, "they want me to mark my ballot in secret, but since we have no secrets I want to mark it in front of you."
"Oh," she said, "that's sweet," and gave me a peck on the cheek.
Number 4 says, "After marking the ballot, re-fold it and place it inside this Secrecy Sleeve." The capital letters made me feel important. The problem is, the Secrecy Sleeve is the paper on which the instructions are written. It simply folds in half. There is nothing secret about it. When someone at the elections office opens the envelope, the ballot will quite likely slip right out of its Secrecy Sleeve. End of secret.
Number 6 says, "VERY IMPORTANT: You must sign your name or make your mark [???] in the box marked 'VOTER MUST SIGN IN BOX' or your ballot cannot be counted." Now the box in which the voter must sign his name is on the envelope into which the Secrecy Sleeve will be inserted, so that everyone from the mailman to the sorter to the clerk and all his buds at the election office can see that I'm a Republican, since only Repubs can vote in the primary. On the envelope is emblazoned OFFICIAL ELECTION MAIL. What if someone at the elections office happens to be, simultaneously, a neighbor of mine (or an acquaintance by some other means) and an Obamabot liberal-leftist? Aha, he thinks, so that Luse is a conservative lapdog, a lover of Wall Street and a hater of the poor, a defender of nonhumans in the womb and an opponent in general of the sexually libertine template to which our society is conforming as it progresses toward complete and total non-discrimination in all things disreputable. I think I'll slash his tires.
You think I'm paranoid. I think the political atmosphere is so poisoned that conservatives in many walks of life fear the enmity incited by their opinions. All right, I'll stop whining.
Most of the other instructions are uninteresting ("Don't forget to affix postage to your envelope"). But number 10 caught my eye: "FELONY NOTICE: It is a felony to accept any gift, payment, or gratuity in exchange for your vote."
My wife, still beside me, asked, "So who you gonna vote for?"
"What's the point?" I said. "Independents will determine the winner, so you and I are in the position of trying to pick whom we think the independents will vote for over Obama."
Yeah, she agreed, it's tough, but we have to choose.
Why? Why do we have to choose?
If everyone had that attitude, she said, the Republicans wouldn't have a nominee. Exactly, I said. A brokered convention. Many long for it. A colleague out at school said he's still fuming at Paul Ryan for not getting in. All the guys who could have won refused to step up to the plate. Oh, she said, it's not all that bad...
Then a light went on. "I was thinking," I said, "of voting for Ron Paul."
"Why would you do that? He's crazy."
"Well, I might be persuaded...."
She went to her purse and came back with a large bill. "I'll give you a hundred bucks to vote for anyone but Paul."
I still haven't filled out the oval next to my choice, but when I do I'll make sure she's in the room.