Voting 101
Making your vote really count takes research, preparation and a fully charged BS meter

By Jami Jones
feature editor

I was ready, and I mean ready, to head off to the polls to vote in my first election. Officially still a teenager, I didn’t even think that I might not know what I was doing. But then, what teenager would consider such a thing.

I had my opinions — what teenage girl doesn’t — and convictions. I was into politics. I thought I had the action covered. What more could I have possibly needed? I already knew it all. In fact, I knew so much, that I figured out how to register to vote before I was even 18, just so I could vote in the upcoming election.

Be it because of some sort of perceived patriotic duty, or simply a chance to raise a voter that didn’t irritate them at the polls, my parents decided to sit me down and give me “Voting 101.”

Another “talk” — the mere suggestion had me just as perturbed at the “voting talk” as I was at the “sex talk.”

Knowing I wouldn’t get out of it, I endured “the talk.” My eyes rolled. Indignant sighs filled the room. As far as I was concerned, it was just another parental waste of my time.

That was until I actually headed to the booth for that first time. That’s when I knew I was ahead of the game.

I was prepared to cast my vote for the candidates of my choice, and I also knew how I wanted to vote on the constitutional amendments presented on the ballot.

I watched voters struggle through reading the ballot for the first time. And since there aren’t secret-decoder rings handed out with each ballot, they were forced to decipher the jargon and double-talk all on their own. As irritating as it still is to wait on them, my heart really goes out to them because the task they are tackling is not a simple one.

I was so glad that Mom and Dad literally forced me to read those amendments before I went to vote that first time. Once I sorted my way through the legal and legislative language and thought I understood the question posed, I told them I knew what my vote would be.

That’s when Dad really opened my eyes.

“If you punch the ‘for’ line on the ticket, you’re actually against the amendment,” he explained. “If you punch the ‘against’ line on the ticket, you’re actually for the amendment.”

Do what? It was my first experience with political double-talk. I was a pro at the whole double-talk thing when it came to negotiating a curfew. But this was a would-be law that I didn’t want. I should be “against” it.

Dad patiently coached me through the reading of the amendments and taught me how to spot the language that would ultimately decide the success or failure of the amendment. He taught me how to spot the “extra” stuff that was tacked onto various amendments that may mean more to me than the actual amendment itself.

I learned how to read amendments. I learned how to decide on them. I learned how to see the amendments for what they are. I now read my sample ballot with my “BS Meter” on full power.

Since that first election, I always make sure to get a hold of the amendments ahead of time. I read them and read them again. I talk to friends and make sure I’ve got it straight in my head and am ready to cast the vote I really want.

I have drawn from my parents’ insights and guidance on how to be an informed and responsible voter at every single election I’ve voted in — be it local or national level, primary or general elections.

Each and every time I check in at my local precinct, I understand why my parents had “the talk.” And I wish more voters had the benefit of it.

There are a variety of resources for expediting the research process – resources that will help cut through the propaganda to real information to help you make your decision this Election Day.

Take a few minutes, at the very least, and get yourself prepared. Well-informed, conscious decisions will go a long way toward off-setting the shoot-from-the-hip voters who don’t care enough to keep the spin doctors and double-talkers from shaping our future for their own benefit.

Until more voters do just that — make their vote their own, reflecting their personal morals, beliefs and convictions — the irresponsible, apathetic majority will rule our future.