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Monday, November 5, 2012

Unpacking Aunty Em ► My Shocking Confession

"Hanging" Chad. Despite his
name, Chad's a wonderful dancer.
I have never voted in an election in my entire life. In fact, it's somewhat of a family tradition. I am a Second Generation Non-Voter™. 

I had always assumed that Pops voted before I moved back in with him to help him out. I was shocked to learn he never voted in his life. I've asked Pops why he doesn't vote and simply put: he thinks they're all crooks and doesn't want to encourage them. People ask me why I've never voted and I say, "It's complicated."

Get comfy, kidz.


When I became of a voting age, I was already living in CanaDuh, where I moved after growing up in 'Merka. However, I wasn't a Canadian citizen. I was merely a "Landed Immigrant," which is the equivalent of having a Green Card. You must be a Canadian citizen to vote in a Canadian election, just as you have to be a 'Merkin to vote in 'Merka.

I lived in Canada as a Landed Immigrant for quite a while. During that period I covered several elections for several publications. I also worked for the #1-rated tee vee newsroom for a decade, which had me working during several long election nights live -- some in the newsroom and some as a Field Producer producing, err, out in the field at an election headquarters.

Having no stake voting in Canadian elections, I looked at them from afar, the same way I get to look at the Christmas hysteria every year. It's a very different experience when watching the sausage get made, especially when one can't even vote. Having no stake in 'Merkin elections, I looked at them from even more of an afar, the same way I get to look at the Super Bowl hysteria every year.

If truth be told, I could have voted absentee in 'Merkin 'lections. I became eligible to vote there in 1971. Since then there have been no matchups exciting enough for me to go through the process of learning how: Nixon-McGovern; Carter-Ford, Carter-Reagan, Reagan-Mondale, GHW Bush-Dukakis, GHW Bush-Clinton, Clinton-Dole, Bush-Gore, Bush-Kerry. Sorry, but in my opinion none of those races were worth getting out of bed for. Besides, I lived in Canada and never anticipated moving back to 'Merka. What did I care?

John and Sandra are not related.
Anne and Pierre are cousins.
However, 'Merka could learn several things from the elections of those crazy Socialists to the north. Lesson Number One: Ballots are uniform across the country. What's more, they couldn't be simpler to understand. Make an "X" in a circle on a piece of paper. That's it. No butterfly ballots. No hanging chads. If there needs to be a recount, all those paper ballots are right there to be recounted. If there's a dispute? All those paper ballots are right there to be examined.

In Canada electronic voting machines are not owned by one of the candidate's sons. I put no trust in electronic voting. If entire countries can be hacked, so can your vote. Besides, electronic voting has no paper trail. If you get a receipt for a donut, why not for something as important as your vote?

Lesson Number Two: The Suspense. 'Merkin 'lection campaigns always seem to be happening. And, the elections come like clockwork. Senators serve 6 years. Presidents serve 4 years. Congress critters serve 2 years. There always seems to be an election of national import going on in 'Merka. It seems no sooner that one election is finished, the signs go up for the next election. Those who serve in Congress have it worse. They begin their next campaign on Wednesday.

Suspense is one of the best parts of the Canadian election system. In Canada elections tend to happen every five years, because that's as long as a government can sit legally without calling one. UNLESS one is called before 5 years have passed. Under the parliamentary system, a Prime Minister can call an election at any time. If he thinks the party could pick up more seats in the House, he might call a snap election. But, since Canadians hate being asked to make a firm decision about anything, especially politicians, he better have a good reason to call an election. He could be punished at the polls if he misreads the mood of the public. Another case in which a snap election can be called -- in fact, must be called -- is when a minority/coalition government loses a "vote of confidence" in the House.

Lesson Number Three: Most of my 'Merkin friends would love how there are three viable parties in Canada, as well as a few rump parties that also garner votes. Consequently, if a candidate wants to win, she cannot just appeal to the extremist wackadoodles on one side or another, like what happens in 'Merkin 'lections. Having multiple political parties also means that minority/coalition governments are possible. A minority government is the circumstance best for the public in the long run. Political parties have to compromise and work together to get any laws passed. If a government falls due to a vote of "non-confidence," the party that showed the most intransigence leading to the snap election could be punished at the polls. 

My Majesty's a pretty nice girl,
but she doesn't have a lot to say.
Lesson Number Four: The election cycle in Canada is mercifully short. The legislated minimum length of an election campaign is 36 days. While there's no maximum legislated length, other laws about when a government MUST sit in the House would kick in. This would effectively limit an election campaign to a year. However, and this is the blissful part, Canadian election campaigns generally only last about 5 weeks, TOPS! Then it's done. Finished. Kaput. Over. And Canadians forget all about politics until the next election.

However, this essay is supposed to be about me not voting. I digress.

All the time I lived in Canada, it bothered me that I couldn't vote. All I would have needed to do was become a Canadian Citizen. However, somewhere deep in my heart and psyche I was still a 'Merkin. There was something about having to swear allegiance to The Queen -- a MONARCH, fer fuck's sake!!! -- that went against the grain. Charles Roach -- a man I respected who passed away last month -- took the same stance as I did. He went further and wanted to abolish the entire monarchy. I didn't care that much. However, as a 'Merkin I still couldn't bring myself to pledge allegiance to a MONARCHY!!! Ain't that what 'Merkins spilled blood over way back when, or did I confuse my wars again? They all look alike.

Pics in the Public Domain stitched together by author.
However, it was decades of watching 'Merkin 'lections, while fully immersed in a Canadian news stream, that made me 100% cynical about 'Merkin politics. What can you say about a populace who elected Richard Nixon twice, despite the fact that he was always Tricky Dickie, and always would be? 'Merkins elected Dubya -- not once, but twice!!! That's when I finally gave up on 'Merka and decided to take out my Canadian citizenship -- oath be damned -- just in time to return to 'Merka to take care of Pops.

That was the supreme irony. While I hold dual citizenship, there were other parts of that solemn oath I swore to The Queen, and all her heirs and assigns. I also swore that I would not vote in another country's elections, nor serve in another country's armed forces. I took that part of the oath seriously. Therefore, I am still prohibited from voting. I wonder if I can vote absentee in Canadian elections?

When I returned to 'Merka, after 3.5 decades outside the country, I decided to adopt the nom de plume "Aunty Em Ericann." It seemed to fit because I felt almost like a "Stranger in a Strange Land." The country was familiar on the surface, but once I started digging deeper, I didn't recognize 'Merka anymore. She was uglier and meaner than I ever expected her to be. There was far more of "I got mine, Jack. Fuck off" than I ever would have imagined.

However, after careful consideration, I realized the fault was all mine. I came to realize that I had retained an idealized, halcyon, childhood, rose-coloured image of 'Merka in my mind all of those years in Canada, where there are enough safety nets to catch almost everyone.

I watched the election of Barack Obama from Florida in 2008 with alarm. There was far more racism than I ever could have imagined. Little of that was reflected in the mainstream media news stream (which includes Fox "News"). It was the deeply racist rumblings in some of the circles I found myself immersed in, on the patio at Starbucks, overheard in line at the store. Because people thought I belonged to the same White Skin Club, they'd say the most outrageous things to be unbidden.

'Merkin racism has only gotten -- Yannow, I was going to say "worse," but I'm not sure it's worse. I think it has just become more acceptable to express, so it is just out in the open these days. Some people believe because there is a Black president, racism ended. Therefore, they feel more comfortable blurting out the stupidly racist shit that's dangled at the end of their tongue unexpressed all those years.

Edward Everett Hale, 1865
But I digress and am about to do so again, but I'll connect it all up at the end.

When I was growing up, there was a short story that deeply affected me. It always brought me to the verge of tears. I recently re-read it and my reaction was even more visceral. How did I know as a child how deeply it would affect me as an adult? But I did.

The Man Without a Country was a short story originally published anonymously in The Atlantic Monthly in 1863. The author was later revealed to have been Edward Everett Hale and it purports to be a true story. However, it is not, something I only learned while researching this paragraph. Yet, that doesn't change the way I feel about this story. It seems to describe me in a way that I never could have imagined when I first read it as a child.

When I am finally allowed to vote, I will no longer feel like Philip Nolan, whose obituary begins The Man Without a Country.