What the Primaries? !— How a lack of rights led to some big personal insight

Election day. The Connecticut Primaries. I pulled up to my polling location around 12 P.M. on August 14, listening to NPR. “The weed-killer Round-up causes cancer…. $289 million… landmark case….”

Hearing this news felt good. It was as if our government did the right thing. The judicial system did the right thing, and I got to hear this just before heading to cast my vote in the Connecticut Primary election. I haven’t quite given up on our system, even despite the state of the union. I still believe my vote can make a difference… After all, that’s why I came here.

I had hoped to arrive earlier, but the day had other plans in mind. Errands and other adult-y things took precedence over breakfast. Oh well, I thought. I can eat after I vote.

I felt ready for this. This time, I did my homework: Having researched the Democratic candidates applicable to my district, I knew who to pick. Finding this information online was a real hassle, and I had even made phone calls to state offices to find out who all of the Democratic candidates were. It took me a good three days to learn about their values, views, and hopes for our state, but I succeeded in my research. I was ready to vote.

I headed toward Snow School. Apparently, they were doing construction in the front lawn; I almost missed the driveway. I got really excited when I saw a lot of cars lined up along the property. Wow, I thought. This many people came out to vote? That’s great news! Happily, albeit naively, I pulled in.

To my dismay, it was parking for some summer camp event. My parking lot-destination was half-paved, surrounded by those orange emergency cones, and limited to a small space for actual parking. Laughing at my assumptions, I said to myself, “Oh well. I suppose that’s not realistic, anyway. This is a gubernatorial election year, not a presidential one. And I had to work pretty hard to find the info I needed.”

With my driver’s license in hand, I went in, following the signs. “I can still make a difference,” I thought. This time, I was ready.

I smiled as I approached the woman at the first desk. She didn’t say hi, but rather just asked, plainly and loudly: “Democrat?” I felt a gut reaction — it’s a rude thing to ask. Maybe it was her tone bothered me. But I had no legitimate reason to feel offended; I was in a place where I actually was supposed to disclose this. She had to know what table to direct me to — duh.

I answered “yes”, hesitatingly, and in half of a stutter. Her question really threw me off. In the moment, I had wished they’d just posted some signs for where democrats and republicans go.

It’s so strange to me how I still don’t like being asked my political affiliation. Sure, I tend to say “democrat”, but I’ll admit, even at my age, that some days I’m not sure what that exactly means. My values do tend to be more on the liberal side, but it’s still very hard to disclose this so loudly in public. Even if there were only ten people there, if not less, why should this matter? It’s really not something I tend to broadcast. I shrugged it off, keeping my smile strong, and walked over to my district’s table. I had done my research. This will take less than ten minutes. This time, I was ready.

Two women sat there, with their large-font lists in place. A twenty-something woman handled the republican list, and a seventy-something woman sat with the democrat list in hand. Both were polite, but the republican girl looked hangry. I joked with her about the need for snack volunteers — “I might be hangry within an hour, myself,” I said. She didn’t laugh; it didn’t matter. I knew why I was there, and she probably knew, herself, too. We assume both knew who we were voting for, respectively, and our elections technically were different. We had nothing to argue about, just yet, so I wasn’t worried. I smiled. I was ready. I knew why I was there.

The old woman looked at me: “What’s your last name again? You’re not on my list.”

…. and, there it was. Ready or… not…. . . . just, not there. 
I was baffled. And so was she.

I spelled out my name and repeated my address. The old lady asked for my license; I explained how I never put the change-of-address sticker on it. She asked me my address again. Checked her paper again. The republican girl checked her list, too. “What’s your address?” (Really!!!) She asked me this several, several times — as if I didn’t know where I lived. I felt so offended, but I said nothing. I guess I was getting hangry after all. Subtly annoyed and confused, I smiled my way through it.

She sent me to another list-manager, a woman at the center table, also in her seventies. We explained the problem, and she moved to make a phone call. My address wasn’t the problem. The spelling of my name wasn’t the problem. Why was this such a big deal? Oh, the irritation of it! I kept my smile on, nonetheless. Happily, I engaged in conversation with some other volunteers. “I know it will all work out. No matter what,” I said. “It will work out.” A volunteer around my age, in his thirties or forties, commented, “I’m glad to see you have faith!” His compliment seemed so sincere.

That man offered to help, as the older woman called the registrar of voters. He opened his computer and verified it in seconds: Yes. I was registered in Middletown, after all. Address…correct. Name spelling…correct. Party affiliation……

I paused to let it sink in.

A moment later, the woman repeated the news, still holding her phone. I let the silence sit a little longer….

I was ready, this time. I had done so much research on who was running for office that I had forgotten to research myself. I don’t recall changing my affiliation — I clearly remember voting in the 2016 Democratic primary — but I understand why I would have changed it. The 2016 presidential election forced me to think about a lot of things. We treat our elections like they’re a game. Hell, we can even gamble on them in Vegas. Political strategies seem to be woven through so many facets of our society — perhaps internationally, too. After 2016, I thought I’d vote strategically.

In Connecticut, we can change parties at any time. If unaffiliated, we have the option to assign an affiliation up until the 5th day before the primary, online or by mail, and up until 12 P.M. on the preceding business day, in person. Staying unaffiliated up until the last minute can be used as a strategy. In 2016, I figured that there may be occasions where my vote may be more helpful in a republican primary versus a democratic one.

For as liberal as I know myself to be, I know that I can also see and understand how some conservative ideas and projects can be valuable and useful. There are even some democratic projects I might disagree with, on occasion. Just because someone is of an opposing political party isn’t a really good reason to ignore all of their ideas. It’s a type of prejudice, and I would rather see the good in both sides without the implications of an inappropriate moral judgment. Being able to see the positives of both sides might even be why I feel so triggered when someone loudly assumes I identify one way or the other. I know I can understand much of the reasoning behind a different perspective, but a label automatically gives me an enemy who is likely to not listen— no matter which of these two labels I would choose.

Coming into these primaries, I thought I was a registered democrat, and I didn’t have a problem with this. I might have some issues with the democratic stereotype, and I might think a little conservatively sometimes, but this whole debacle got me thinking.

What does it mean to be a democrat or a republican? Why do we have primaries? Why do we have political parties? Where do I fall on this spectrum? And, do I lean far enough to either side to join one particular team?

We side with a party to support each other. Most of the time, it is groups that have more power than individuals. Then again, specific individuals only gain power by gathering a group who supports them.

I thought… political parties are kind of like churches, right?
Churches are congregations of people who claim to share the same values and social beliefs. They are groups of individuals that hold a similar mentality, and each denomination/tradition has its own rules. For instance, I was taught that in Catholicism, one cannot receive the holy communion without having recently gone to confession. For someone who hasn’t been baptized, taking communion is absolutely off-limits; it’s disrespectful and immoral to do this. Additionally, an individual converts their religion when she/he agrees to the group’s perspective; only then does she/he have the right to fully take part in the services. Now, I don’t exactly identify as Catholic these days, but if I’m ever at a church (for funerals, weddings, etc.) I don’t get up for communion. My sense of morality informs me that this is the right thing to do.

In the same vein, political parties preach certain values. They have their own democratic process, respectively. Republicans (should) vote for who would best represent Republicans and promote the values of their party; and, of course, the same rule applies for Democrats. Yet, under this model, an undercover democrat should not have the right to vote in a republican primary, and vice-versa.

Strategic voting might be legal, but it’s not moral. Although taking advantage of the rules seemed like a smart idea in 2016, it wasn’t a right idea. I do strive to be a moral human being, and this practice is dishonest. Who knows? In a few years, it could even be illegal.

Thankfully, I didn’t do the wrong thing, and I can rest comfortably in this knowledge; I just thought about it. Maybe it’s karma that I didn’t get to vote in this primary. Yet, what really scares me is that I know that I’m not the only person who considers this. What if a similar problem exists in a swing state? Then again, chances are that our lawmakers already understand this problem exists. It’s an obvious loophole, and it might be more problematic to vet new party members before allowing them to vote in a primary.

You know…because vetting might be seen as offensive, turning potential supporters away.

I stood there, thinking. I was about to leave the polls without casting my ballot. I had no choice. Standing right there, I was ready to make an informed decision — and I couldn’t. I asked myself a lot of things, and continued this momentary, mental tirade.

A woman my age smiled at me. This volunteer looked as if she wanted to help, but there were enough people in this conversation, as it was. I smiled back, of course. I had questions; who might give me the answers?

Why was it so difficult to find the information I needed, coming into this? It’s a pet peeve, I’l admit it. This wasn’t as accessible as I’d have liked — not found on ct.gov nor ctdems.org (I gave up searching after multiple clicks). I didn’t know who’d be on the ballot — let alone what their personal philosophies might be. And once I found a full listing (thank you, Facebook friends), I noticed how several candidates didn’t enter their personal information on comparative sites like vote411.org and ballotpedia.org.

If you ask me, I believe it’s important for candidates to have an online presence on comparative sites like these, and I think it’s important for citizens to have easy access to this kind of information. Personally, I think candidates who make this information accessible online might do a better job: It shows they’re more aware of modern trends and technology, and they may be more fitted to personally evolve with the advancements of technology over time. It shows that they’re also more aware of the importance of allowing the public to make informed decisions, taking account for the shy folks too. If I have to call your secretary in order to learn what you stand for — if you’re making it hard to teach me to be more extroverted — then I can assume you’re probably not going to care enough to work for me in public office. (Note: I did make several phone calls in my research process. After multiple referrals to different numbers, I ended up at someone’s voicemail.)

I want to know who’s on my ballot and what they stand for. Sure, I’ll see the yard signs and even get promotional materials in the mail, but that doesn’t offer a fully informed choice. No one knocked on my door. Really, guys, does it need to be so difficult?

Also, what of the unaffiliated? Why can’t someone who chooses to remain unaffiliated vote in the primaries? If I can make an informed decision as to who would make the best governor, lieutenant governor, senator, etc. among a small group of candidates, regardless of their party affiliation, why am I not allowed to vote for my pick? If I can’t identify with either party — or if I can identify with both — why should this prevent me from affirming my choice as to who I believe can do the best job? Is there some underlying purpose to these primaries? Is this just to produce more republicans and democrats?

Is this what it feels like to not have the right to vote?

Technically, that’s what this is. If I can’t call myself a democrat or a republican, I don’t have the right to vote in a primary election. Every one of these candidates signs up with the goal of running in the November election — and a lot of them are good candidates — but this first vote eliminates a good portion of them. Only the party members can choose which ones get put on the November ballot. It almost seems that if it weren’t for this first step, we’d have more (and possibly better) options down the road.

What about independent candidates? Do they need a two-stage process to secure a spot on November’s ballot too? And does the selectivity of this two-phase election process somehow prevent independents from succeeding in November elections?

Rolling my eyes, I have to admit: Despite my reasoning and rumination, I can’t say for certain that I’m against the two-party system. I hear a lot of people talk negatively about it, but I know that I don’t know enough about how it works to commit to an opinion about it. I know I need to know more, first.

By this point, I figured I was over-thinking things. Sure, I was fired up… and somehow still in a good mood. And yes this was a problem, and sure this got me questioning the entire situation. For all the frustration I endured, and all the uncertainty before me, there was one thing I knew without a doubt: 
 I was definitely hangry.

When confronted with my problem, the volunteers didn’t know what to do. The boomers there assumed I had an address or spelling issue. The millennial republican sat back, showing off her RBF. And the Gen-xer was the most helpful. I know, generational differences shouldn’t matter, but I had a lot on my mind. And yet, upon discovering the concern, no one really knew what what to tell me. They didn’t know who I should to talk to, but I assumed I could head over to city hall. Moreover, they also didn’t know whether I couldn’t do anything about it. This shows a training concern, I suppose, and something easily remedied, but the fact remains that I walked away without casting a vote. I was ready — and ready to do the right thing — and I couldn’t vote. I had a lot on my mind, then, and I couldn’t vote.

I didn’t discuss all this with them right then and there; I knew there was really nothing I could do. This was my mistake. I told the man I’d talk to someone about this after the election, after the campaign stress settles a little bit. He empathized with me, and complimented my faith a second time. Nice guy. I hope we meet again.

“Mistakes happen,” I said to him as I left. “Everything for a reason.”

Though I felt turned away, I still kept my smile on as I walked out the door. Even if I couldn’t vote, I was proud of myself for trying. I thought ahead… I was ready to do the right thing — and dumb luck informed me that I needed to think harder.

It turned out that NPR was still running that special report when I started my car again. The good news repeated: “It’s a wake-up call to the EPA… $289 million… forces Monsanto to say something about its product… They should treat it like we learned to treat cigarettes…put a label on it… they need to inform consumers of the risks involved… and allow us to make an informed decision….”

As I drove home, I saw the positives. 
Next time, I’ll be more prepared.