Besides at mock poll stations in my social science classes, I've never actually exercised my right to vote.
Perhaps I'm overly modest (what, really, is the likelihood of that since I have a blog?) but I always just figured myself too stupid to have my opinion count. I, in all honesty, also didn't feel American enough to vote.
My family moved down to the States the summer before my sophomore year of high school. In Canada this would have been known as grade ten.
In an effort to both brainwash and educate me, my counselor threw me into remedial English and mathematics classes...and US History Honors.
There were 10 students in my English class. I was the only one who could read aloud. I'm not even sure if the other kids in there could read. I never heard any of them open their mouths. I asked to be transferred out of it, but my counselor told me that all the other English classes were full. Besides, I had moved from Canada and needed to "catch up."
I didn't learn anything new in my math class, but since math and I don't get along so well I didn't even bother asking to transfer out of that class.
Given my counselor's opinion that I needed to "catch up," I was quite shocked to see US History Honors on my schedule. If there was any subject I would need remedial help for (well, besides math), it was US History.
I walked into class the first day and Mrs. Eisenhart announced that we would be quizzed on the 50 states and their capitols the following week. We had to know the state names, their capitol, and where they went on the map. We also had to spell everything correctly.
I just about cried. There was no way I could do this. I went up and told Mrs. Eisenhart that I had just moved from Canada and had never taken a US History course and couldn't name all 50 states next week if my life depended on it. Sure, I knew some of them, but where in the world is Topeka?
I don't think she heard me. She told me that she didn't care, that this should just be a refresher, and that I would come prepared or suffer the consequences.
That wasn't the only time I was embarrassed in her class, either. I spent most of my time in her class embarrassed, actually.
One of my favorite embarrassing moments, however, was the day before we started some random unit on past presidents of the United States. She didn't really introduce the lecture very well, in my opinion, but maybe that's because I hadn't heard of half these men before.
"Tell me something about Abraham Lincoln," Mrs. Eisenhart started the class off, selecting some poor, unsuspecting student who gave some silly fact like "He's on the penny," or "He chopped down a cherry tree," or something. Whatever they answered with, she seemed pleased.
"Tell me something about George Washington," she said next. Whoever answered probably gave some obvious fact like, "He was the first president of the United States." And she surely gushed over their answer.
"Now, Nancy," she said, looking at me, "Tell me something about U.S. Grant."
I stared at her. She stared at me. I gulped.
"Uhhhhhh..." I began. I had no idea what she was talking about. "It's money available for...uhhhh.... I don't know."
She puckered her lips at me, "You can't tell me one thing?"
"Not one little thing?"
"I think someone needs to read up on their presidents," she chastised me.
Oh! U.S. Grant was a president! Not that I could have offered her any interesting facts about him had I known, but the whole situation would have been much less embarassing if I had known he was a person.
I also once, due to her atrociously American accent, distinctly heard her refer to the "Liberty Ball" and was left in the dark for a few minutes until I clued in that we were talking about the Liberty Bell. (I did know what that was).
I also had to lead the presidential debate in our class. It was 2000 and the candidates were George Bush and Al Gore.
Having just moved from Canada, I really had no idea what either candidate stood for, but I was pretty sure that Mormon Americans were republicans so I was pretty sure I was republican, too. Everyone seemed to want Bush to win, so I did, too.
And then I was selected to lead the "Gore side" of the debate.
I spent the next few weeks watching debates and reading news articles--something that I hadn't really done in the past. I'd never been too keen on politics--and I learned that I actually agreed with Gore frequently, although I'd never admit this, and debated beautifully his platform in my class. So beautifully that he actually won our mock election. Man, am I ever good at persuading fickle high schoolers!
That was really my one glory moment in Eisenhart's classroom, besides getting an A. Most days were just embarassing.
You'll be happy to learn that the next year I made my own schedule and filled it with Honors and AP classes. I, however, was completely unimpressed with what I learned and was bored the whole year through. I dropped out of school so that I could get my Associate's degree and used my college classes to fulfill my high school graduation requirements.
I took American Heritage at UVSC from Dr. Winkler, who lived in my stake at the time and who also worked at BYU. On the first day of class he said something to the effect of,
"Forget everything you learned in your high school history classes. It was all a load of crock."
His class was one of my favorite classes. Perhaps that was because Mrs. Eisenhart's was one of my least favorites. He valued my opinion as a recent immigrant* instead of demeaning me as happened in high school.
I've been working at becoming more involved in politics since then--like, you know, reading newspapers and stuff like that--and cultivating my opinions. I'm happy to say that this is the first election I have felt American enough and educated enough to vote.
And then I saw the ballot.
We got email ballots this year since we live so far away in a land of unreliable mail service and let's just say it isn't what I was expecting at all!
There were Federal votes, State votes, District votes. Presidential votes, Representative votes, Govenor votes. Judge approvals, ammendments, etc., etc., etc.
I was a little intimidated.
So the email sat in my inbox. It sat in my inbox for five days.
Andrew helped explain some the ammendments to me and showed me where I could find Republican, Democratic, and Independent thoughts on the issues. And I mulled things over for a few days before actually voting...not that there were really any huge state-level issues presented.
When I was ready to vote I had Andrew stand right beside me and walk me through it. I figure that was okay because I had already given up my right for a secret ballot by asking to vote via email.
I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting a two page multiple-choice test! Seriously with all the typing I had to do, it was almost like there was an essay portion at the end, too!
When you go to a real polling station, do they let you run out of the booth screaming and pulling out your hair? And if they do, do they let you come back five days later for a second attempt? Do they let you phone a friend?
No wonder Gore demanded a recount.
*I've always been an American citizen but was born and raised abroad. I don't know if that counts as immigrating.