I did not vote in the 1992 presidential election. And there's a tale behind it that relates to the post from earlier today.
From the summer of 1987 through the fall of 1992, I lived in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Mrs. D and I moved to Minnesota in the fall of 1992. We moved into our apartment on Sunday, November 1. We signed a 1-year lease for an apartment (in St. Paul, near Macalester College) that day and paid our rent and a security deposit. We would get new identification as Minnesotans shortly thereafter.
Election Day fell on November 3, 1992. We assumed that we were not yet eligible to vote in Minnesota, because we had just arrived. We could have voted absentee back in Oak Park, but we thought that would be the wrong thing to do, because we didn't want to cast our vote in a place where we no longer lived. I had an excellent understanding of the candidates on the ballot back in Oak Park, including my then-Congressional Rep, Cardiss Collins. But it hardly seemed appropriate to weigh in on her performance in office when I was no longer her constituent.
Should we have voted in Minnesota? Some would argue that yes, we had a right to vote. We could have had someone, maybe even our landlord, vouch for us at the polling place, because we had signed a 1-year lease. In order to vote in Minnesota, you are supposed to have lived at your current address for 30 days. While we had not been in place long enough under state law to be eligible, from what I have learned we likely would have gotten by with voting that day if we'd had someone vouch for us, especially since we had a signed lease in our possession.
We both thought it would have been irresponsible to vote, though, given the circumstances. I didn't know anything about the candidates on the ballot, other than the candidates for the presidency. If I had voted that day, I would not have known enough to make an informed decision. My new congressman was the late Bruce Vento, about whom I knew nothing. His opponent that day was a University of Minnesota professor named Ian Maitland, about whom I also knew nothing. Based on the party label alone, I would have likely voted for Maitland, but I wouldn't have been able to explain why. Should you vote for someone if you know nothing about them? I thought not. And now, 20 years on, it still seems like the right decision.
As it happened, Mrs. D and I lived in that apartment in St. Paul for over 2 years. When we got to the 1994 election, I had learned plenty about Bruce Vento and felt quite comfortable and justified in voting for Vento's opponent in that election.
So why bring this up? I think we need to taking voting more seriously. Let's be clear -- I understand why people bristle when you argue that voting is a privilege, rather than a right. If you are a naturalized American citizen over the age of 18, yes, you have a right to vote. But I will always believe that you need to treat your vote as precious and understand that when someone says it's a privilege to vote, they are saying something important about the meaning of voting. In the United States, voting is actually consequential. Your vote does matter and does get counted. Elections have turned on a single vote.
And this is why residency is an important part of voting. People should have an interest in what happens at the local level in the place that they live. They should learn what the issues are, understand who represents them and cast their votes based on their judgment of how the candidates are likely to perform in office and how they will represent local interests. Now, I suppose it is possible that some people who tend to be a little more transient are keen observers of the political scene. I also suppose that a person who moves 4-5 times a year might understand enough about the candidates on the ballot to make an informed decision on the relative merits of the candidates. But let's be honest about it -- the chances are good that the ballot cast would likely be based on party ideology, rather than the actual merits of the candidate.
That doesn't bother a lot of people, apparently. They are less concerned about the thinking behind the vote than making sure the vote is counted. Perhaps that's how we ought to view the matter, but it doesn't seem right to me. Does it seem right to you?