Opinion Columns & Blogs

Responsibility of ballot choices weighs heavy on first-time voter

I couldn't help smiling as I filled out my voter registration forms the other day. This November will mark the first year that I am eligible to take an active role in our electoral process, rather than just snarling at bumper stickers or leaving angry, all-caps comments in response to online campaign videos.

The right to vote is easily the most exciting present I’ll receive on my 18th birthday, so thank you, 26th Amendment. But every stage of growing up seems to coincide with a loss of innocence, and in this case it’s the end of a certain ideological nonchalance.

Throughout the carefree early years of my adolescence, I could bury myself in Ayn Rand one week and Upton Sinclair the next, advocating either the abolition of all government, or the state seizure of private property, depending on the time of day. I flip-flopped like a pancake and wobbled like a top.

Government used to be some idealistic fantasy for me, a child’s play-acted game where anything could happen and the world was easy to save.

Now, all of a sudden, I find myself at the age where it’s all become quite real. I have to make up my mind exactly how I feel about all the issues and all the candidates, and then stay put long enough to pour my heart out onto a ballot and mail it in by Nov. 2.

If this sounds easy, it isn’t.

I’m reeling from the enormous importance of the task before me. Somehow, no amount of Internet research is making me feel smart enough, or informed enough.

Personally, I don’t hold a degree in economics. Who am I to say whether we should stimulate the economy with more government investment or with tax cuts for the rich?

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on Middle Eastern affairs. So how can I be sure what to do with our troops in that region?

Honestly, it’s sort of appalling how much certitude you hear from so many Americans about their politics. Is anyone really so knowledgeable that one position can be so completely obvious? Is everyone on the opposite team just an idiot, then?

Of course, in the end anyone who wants to have a voice needs to take a leap of faith with the information they have, and check one box or the other. What baffles me is the braggadocio that seems to accompany what — for me, anyway — amounts to little more than an educated guess about what’s best for America.

I don’t know that I will ever be smart enough to feel justified engaging in the sort of arrogant insults and derision that are characteristic of our political discourse. For example, I can’t see myself ever demonizing Patty Murray so much that I could sympathize with a recent attack ad, which portrayed her in tennis shoes stomping on the backs of screaming children. On the other hand, I doubt Dino Rossi is really “the best friend Wall Street and big banks can buy,” as a pro-Murray ad suggests.

I am truly excited at the idea of casting my vote for one of these well-meaning candidates. At this moment, I honestly don’t know which one it will be. When I do eventually vote, it won’t be a permanent declaration of principles, but rather a temporary checkpoint.

And hopefully I can retain that flexible outlook in future elections, because I think that being truly ready to change my mind if I hear a better argument than my own only means my vote becomes increasingly sophisticated.

I’m proud to say I’m a moderate.

For now.

Emerson Hardebeck, a senior at Timberline High School and editor-in-chief of Timberline’s student newspaper “The Blazer,” is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. He can be reached at turnwrite@gmail.com.