As I said on Twitter earlier today, I helped Patrick fill out his absentee ballot this afternoon.
Patrick, like many other young people his age, just barely missed being able to vote in the 2004 election (he was a few months shy of turning 18). And, yet, he's always been a bit of a news junkie.
I mentioned last spring, when I had my class start following the presidential primaries, that I was partly inspired by memories of Patrick watching news coverage of the 2000 elections. In particular, I remember being shocked when news programs (real ones, not something like The Daily Show) went around and showed people pictures of Al Gore, George W. Bush, and the like -- and a whole lot of people did not know who was who.
And -- for reasons that must be genetic (I come from a primarily politically conservative family, although Patrick's main influences -- myself and my mom -- since our dad's death both lean liberal) Patrick was very clear, both times, that his preference was for George W. Bush.
In neither case could he articulate why, but how many average voters can? Sure, there are the news junkies, the NPR or KFI listeners (depending on which way you lean on the political spectrum), but how many average j-err...Tom, Dick, and Harry could articulate why they vote for someone as opposed to someone else?
So, anyway, when she helped him register to vote, my mother had Patrick register as a Republican.
Now, I am fairly passionate about the fact that adults with disabilities have as much right to vote as anyone else. There is no IQ testing required to vote -- though I think CA says that you can't vote if under guardianship. But as Patrick is not, that's not an issue here.
(Also, again, IQ or not, Patrick is probably as informed -- if not moreso -- than the average voter.)
So, Patrick was waiting eagerly for his absentee ballot to come. He is registered to vote absentee because he requires the assistance of someone to read the ballot to him, and often to clarify what it is saying. (More on that later.)
Before starting, I laid out the ground rules for Patrick. I would read the ballot to him and help him understand it. I would help He of the Bad Eyesight Who Won't Wear His Glasses to fill in the right bubble. But I would not tell him how to vote on any issue, even if I didn't agree with his vote.
The first page was the presidential election. I explained that this was the list of candidates for president and vice president. I pointed out that most people would vote for either Obama or McCain but told him that he could vote for whoever he wanted. He carefully perused all the names, and eventually voted for the Libertarian candidate.
The next page was senator, state senator, etc. I read the names to him, explained what each job was (senator versus state senator, etc.) and pointed out the person's reputation. I don't recall who he voted for, but he said to me that he chose one person because he thought "they would do a good job for this country."
Then there were the judges. He voted primarily on what the person's job was -- for instance, in one race, he chose a gang prosecutor over a defense lawyer because he knew "gangs are bad and he helps them go away." I am pretty sure he voted for one candidate because he was amused by their last name.
But, to tell the truth, I usually don't vote for judges if I haven't heard of them -- and if I do, I often do just what he did...vote for the teacher or other profession I like.
Then came the propositions, and where we went from me reading the ballot to a little more interpretive work.
Before we started, I explained that the propositions are another way to make a law. I told Patrick that most times, we vote for people who make laws for us. (You hear that, folks? We are not a direct democracy.) These propositions, I told him, are a way for people to help make their own laws.
I also told Patrick that there are times that I don't vote one way or the other. If I haven't sufficiently researched a proposition, I would rather not vote at all than mistakenly vote for something I don't agree with.
We eventually settled upon this system: I read the title of the proposition, then summarized the description (including costs), and explained what a "yes" vote would mean, and what a "no" vote would mean.
This, of course, involved explaining bonds (after two tries, I settled for "selling bank accounts" as something that would make sense to him), as the majority of the propositions were bond measures.
He listened carefully to each one and clearly considered them carefully. He looked a little overwhelmed and at one point told me he was "nervous," which was when I simplified the language a bit more.
What I was careful to do, though, was to present both sides, regardless of how I felt about the particular issue.
Of course, Proposition 8 came up. We had already talked about this last week, as we walked through the Disneyland parking lot (I'm pretty sure I saw a "yes on 8" bumper sticker or something), but I kept to the system.
As an example, this is how we went through the propositions:
"This is the law we talked about before," I told him. "It's the one about being married. If you vote 'yes,' it means that you think only a boy and a girl should get married. If you vote 'no,' it means that you think that if a boy and a boy or a girl or a girl are in love, they should be able to get married."
Because Patrick is a "default to B" type of kid (that is, if you give him a multiple choice question, he almost always picks the second option -- as in, "Patrick, is the sky blue or pink polka dots?" If he were distracted, you would likely get pink polka dots), I repeated the distinction.
"Remember we were talking about Sulu's wedding? If you vote 'no,' you are saying that it's okay for him to marry the man he loves, or for T to marry M." (T and M being my uncle's sister and her partner.) "If you vote 'yes,' you are saying that a man and a man or a woman and a woman who love each other can't be married."
Patrick paused, thought about it, paused again, and said definitively, "I choose no."
I showed him which bubble to fill in, and then thanked him. :-)
As we went through the issues, one thing became very interestingly clear: some higher power moved him to choose the Libertarian guy. Almost without variation, he voted the way I would expect a Libertarian to: conservatively on money issues (except the bullet train to San Fran and Sacramento...I think he thought that was cool) and Prime Directively on social issues (that is, non-interference).
I took my responsibility to be objective very seriously, but it was a cool experience helping him take this step into the adult world.
My class is going to vote Tuesday too, and compare our results to the national ones. So far, polls are leaning towards Obama...but partly because my two twin girls, as well as Drama Queen (4th grade girl A), have decided that he is handsome.
(Betcha lots of other women are voting that way for the same reason, sad as that is.)
Whether or nor their parents ever help them to take this step...at least they'll have had practice. Meanwhile, Patrick's vote is in the mail tomorrow.