Biting the Ballot
Too worn down to exercise the franchise.
My fellow Americans, it is with deep shame that I must admit that I have let you down. You see, I did not participate in the recent statewide primary election, a fact that probably makes the left-leaning crowd somewhat happy. After three decades of ardent political involvement and ballot-casting vigor, I just can't seem to bring myself to give two molecules of crap anymore. Disaffected, disenfranchised, disinterested, disgusted and probably dyspeptic, it seems the electoral thrill is gone, and I am now relegated to the cheap seats of our republic. How did an opinionated firebrand of political consciousness like myself come to be part of the non-participatory problem?
It's not like I was ever a slacker before when it came to voting. I proudly registered and voted for the first time as soon as I could after turning 18. I clearly remember my first experience in voting was to screw up the process for the Democratic primary by voting for Jesse Jackson. When the ballots were counted, I was the only vote for the Rev. Jackson in my entire precinct, which only made my ultimate vote for Reagan that fall all the more satisfying.
Since that time, I have voted in as many elections as possible. I took pride in researching the candidates and issues, and reading all the constitutional amendments before showing up to the polling station. Many voters waited to read these in the booth, but not me. I was informed, decisive and efficient. From bond issues to county commissioners, no item escaped my laser-like focus.
Thomas "Big Brain" Jefferson said that one of the responsibilities of an electorate is to be informed, and I've never had a problem in that regard. To me, current events are like popcorn for the soul, and I have always soaked up whatever effluvia the news organizations have released to us. This has become harder in the era of McNews, where any of us can find the news we already agree with, but I've tried to stay unbiased by bouncing between everything from NPR to Fox. To be frank, this Diogenes-like search for honest news has left me exhausted. I'm tired of bloviators, partisanship and cartwheeling ass-hat politicians.
Being a fully vested New Mexican, it's not like my standards for politicians have ever been very high, either. Albert Fall, Jerry Apodaca, Bruce King, Manny Aragon — these are names that will forever enshrine New Mexico as a paragon of political ineptitude. One of the more enchanting things about our land is that we refuse to be mollified by past experience. In fact, in the most recent primary, Bernalillo County Sherriff candidate Scott James Baird won his party's nomination despite three DWI convictions. In Rio Arriba County, Alexandra Naranjo won a four-way contest for a magistrate judge seat that included a once-suspended lawyer and two candidates — herself included — with drunk-driving records. She actually turned a bicyclist into road pizza and then blew a 0.18 blood-alcohol test, hoping that voters wanted to elect an overachiever. Surprisingly, a police chief in Jal lost his judicial bid after having sex in the back of an ambulance. The voters were probably upset that he wasn't drunk, too.
Upon reflection, it seems that drunkenness isn't such a career liability in our fair state. There was an elected official in Santa Fe years ago who was popped by the po-po for driving drunk, and fought the charge under the defense that his body could manufacture its own alcohol if he ate bread. There was a DWI attorney in Albuquerque about a year ago who was held in contempt of court for showing up drunk. Former Governor Bill Richardson was onboard a boat at Elephant Butte Lake in 2009 that inadvertently smashed into a boat while docking. And then another boat. Within three minutes, the guv and his entourage evacuated the scene without reporting the accident. It's a lot easier to avoid complications if you report the accident two days later, as Richardson's chief of staff did.
Sadly, bad behavior isn't unique to our state, and it's clear that our system is populated with sex addicts, grifters, drug abusers, hypocrites and people with a lot of self-esteem issues. It's also clear that despite what we were told in our third-grade civics class, our vote really doesn't count for much. I die a little bit more inside when I realize my vote is effectively cancelled out by a person who just wants a sticker to wear.
As Isaac Asimov so depressingly pointed out, "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
For a celebrated science fiction writer, that's pretty cynical stuff, Mister Asimov. Of course, Diogenes was a cynic, too, so I guess I'm in pretty good company at this point. After all, cynicism is really the manifestation of a well-developed sense of reality. I hope to muster up enough enthusiasm by the next election to participate in the electoral process again, but it's getting harder to hope for the best only to accept the worst. Maybe I'll go vote just to get the sticker next time.
Henry Lightcap is registered in Las Cruces.