Today is Oregon’s Primary Election. In Oregon, we vote by mail, and we recently passed the Motor Voter Law which makes voting in Oregon an opt-out system. In Oregon, you are automatically registered to vote if you are eligible AND they send you a ballot in the mail. You don’t have to register. You don’t have to leave the house. It’s a pretty fascinating contrast to other states where voter ID laws and enfranchisement barriers are a bigger deal.
Even being a history teacher, I forget what a privilege and international and historical anomaly voting and democracy is. This election season has spawned all kinds of nonsense and commentary and exposed all kinds of systematic and structural weaknesses in our system. All that aside, we still get to vote. And whenever I think of voting I think of Winston Churchill and I think of a conversation I once had with a student in a history class.
Churchill once said, “The best case against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”
It was a civics class or it was a history class. We had compared different forms of government (probably watched a documentary about North Korea) and talked about how recent it was that women could vote. We watched the movie Lincoln and paused to appreciate that as early as the 1860s it was laughable in Congress (to many) to suggest that African Americans should be considered human in the same ways that European Americans were, and that women should be allowed to vote. We looked at literacy tests and poll taxes, etc. etc.
I pointed out that Oregon voted by mail. We were one of the few states that did that. I’ll never forget the comments and contempt that came next from one of the young scholars in the room.
“Ugh,” she said. “I hate getting mail. Can’t I just throw it away? If the government sends me that kind of crap I’m just going to throw it away.”
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