The Back Brief | Vet Vote 2020

The whole drive to the polling site I felt heavy, like no matter who I voted for, it wasn’t what I wanted. It was 2016 all over again, only worse. This is 2020, the “wild card” year. Nothing is off the table and the general mood of our country is something akin to a recovering alcoholic walking down the booze aisle at the grocery store. It feels like we're all one bad decision from a black-out bender that will make drunk texting our ex-feel like a Sunday morning church service.

This could get ugly and I felt it in my gut.

I parked near the polling station, still undecided. I took a deep breath and made my decision. I walked up to the line and within 5 minutes I was standing in front of a lady who was asking for my ID. After verifying I was registered to vote and I was who said I was, she handed me my ballot and directed me to a little enclosure where I was expected to do my dirty work -- to vote.

After all the bubbles were filled, I was instructed to feed my ballot into a machine.  Once it was accepted, a man handed me a little “I Voted” sticker. I took the sticker and as I walked out I stopped for a moment and stared at it. “I Voted” stared back at me, like an accusation… “YOU Voted.” I suddenly felt guilty, like I had committed a crime, a secret crime, that only I knew of. I looked around me and saw the same look on a lot of faces. We had all done something, something bigger than any of us, and it felt like no one was sure what to do with that.Some folks put their sticker on with pride after accepting their decision, quickly coming to terms with what that means. Others like me moved quickly to our cars to contemplate the consequences of our vote.Did I vote for the right guy?Will he do what he says he’ll do?Will he not do what he says he won’t?Will he fight the decision?Did I contribute to some oncoming civil war? Oh my god… What have I done?I sat behind the wheel of my car staring once more at that sticker and decided that I would do what every good American should do in a moment of personal crisis -- take a selfie. So I took the sticker, held it up and felt my face turn into a bitter smile that looks like I took a bite out of a lackluster taco from a Mexican joint everyone told me was awesome and it wasn’t. I posted the picture on Facebook and it became my profile pic, a snapshot of my disappointment in a two-party system.

My drive home was heavier, a mix of guilt and anger. I hated that not just me but that everyone was forced into two choices. There were a lot of other candidates but the system we have in place gives them no real chance to make it to the ballot box. Our political juggernauts have decided that we get two choices and nothing else. Sure, you can write someone into the ballot (didn’t Harambe get 15,000 votes back in 2016?) but none of that counts towards a viable alternative. It’s a throwaway vote. At least that’s what Kang taught me in a Simpsons Halloween episode from the 90s, a show far too much of my adult life is probably based on.

I sat parked in my driveway for a half-hour going back and forth with my Facebook friends and family about what I'm calling “voter's guilt.” Turns out I wasn’t alone, a lot of people I knew from different ends of the political spectrum felt the same way -- like we played a minor part in a disaster. Was I an accomplice in the death of our democracy or was I overplaying my role in our national political drama known as Election Season? I took some amount of solace in knowing that the electoral college would probably make my vote a moot point.

So now there is nothing left to do but wait. Perhaps this will all work out fine. The winner of the election will be cool about it, the loser will be cooler and congratulate the other guy. Perhaps we’ll all look back on this and laugh about that one election year we thought we had ushered in an era of trading toilet paper for fresh water from Immortan Joe and the War Boys. Maybe, we’ll be all right.

For now, my “I Voted” sticker remains affixed firmly to its wax paper. A memento from a heavy-hearted vote, but nevertheless a reminder of my freedom to vote.

You can find Rod Rodriguez on Twitter @rodpodrod,
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