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Vote early and often: The tale of my very first ballot

There are a lot of 'firsts' in life. And the nice thing about 'firsts' is that they're universal. We've all been there: First steps, first day of school, first kiss, first rejection, first time listening to The Cure, first realization that life is meaningless and pain is infinite, first 'first' comment on a website, first mystery solved with the help of a talking dog, first nomination for president, first secret mutual-defense pact signed, first nuclear holocaust, first attack by the mutant albino zombies and first last.

But yesterday in the mail, I got another first. Specifically, I got my first ballot. And let me say, after years of writing about politics -years of whining, begging, pleading, cajoling, name-calling, saying 'Fine, vote for Nader. Break your mother's heart' - I finally got the chance to actually participate in politics. To make my voice heard.

And, well, it kinda sucked.

Ya see, voting as an experience has been built-up for me. Four years of high school social studies classes had me imagining voting as some sort of mystical rite-of-passage. Something enchanting and mysterious - like a sexy bar mitzvah. The sort of thing where I'd grasp the blue or black ink pen of knowledge, reach for the mystical dragon-killing ORS Official Ballot Form E-158, scream 'I HAVE THE POWER' from the top of an erupting volcano, and carefully darken the oval of the candidate whom I felt would best serve my interests as County Director (District 2).

Instead, it was about as sexy as a multiple-choice scoring sheet. I had a little fun humming the Bond theme and making machine gun noises while putting my vote into the Ballot Secrecy Envelope (a name that is still 30 to 40 percent less cool than the name implies) - but I bet the same thought was going through every young-but-no-longer-innocent electoral enthusiast's head that night: 'This is it?'

I don't mean any offense to the candidates running. They all seem like fine choices, and it's hard to believe that more than 25 percent of them are secretly Satan's minions in disguise. I even promised myself I was going to take a few hours to sit down, mull over a few copies of the Review and the Clackamas County Voter's Pamphlet, read all the endorsement letters, and figure out which one of the candidates really cares about 'the childrens' the most. But then I remembered that I'd rather shove metal spikes into my eyeballs than do that. So I didn't.

But just because I'm uninformed, doesn't mean I don't have an opinion about how to fix everything. (I am, after all, a teenager.) Essentially, all the U.S. Voting System needs is a good P.R. campaign. Ask yourself, why isn't there an official car of the 2012 election? Or an official sports drink? If the bureaucrats in Washington really cared about increasing voter participation, they'd stop sending out ballots and start selling a lifestyle. Today's discerning citizens know there are more options out there than just our local governing system. Even as we speak, knock-offs like Canada and Mexico are peddling nearly identical parliamentary systems for prices that can't be beat. If we want to stay competitive, it's time for quick changes:

1. People LOVE stealth marketing. Hire attractive models to frequent hip nightclubs and talk loudly about the tremendous social benefits of voting, and pay less attractive normal people to post seemingly innocuous messages about the upside of voting in online chat forums. Soon, trendsetters everywhere will be hearing lines like 'I never would have met eminem -if I hadn't voted.' And they'll take notice.

2. Everyone loves being rewarded for what they already do. We could take a hint from the credit card industry, and let voters earn rewards every time they vote. Will they trade in their points for the tote bag, the gallon of free gas, or save up and earn a special Bonus Vote™? We'll put the FUN in (F)unconstitutional!

3. Social networking. The right to privacy is all well and good, but without a solid social media presence, our new marketing blitz is doomed to fail. Imagine a world where teens get notifications telling them who their friends voted for - and then challenge them to 'Negate that vote!' Heck, we could even make a game out of it.

At the end of the day, I'm still going to participate in my democracy, no matter how boring it is. I'll put up signs so all my neighbors know that Democrats are the kind of people who don't seed their lawns. I'll plaster sticker after sticker to my car's sagging fender, safe in the knowledge that I will only get into accidents with people of the right political orientation.

Meanwhile, I've only got one first vote. I've got to make the best of it.

Zane Sparling, a senior at Lake Oswego High School, writes a twice-a-month column for the Lake Oswego Review.