Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
This piece is divided into two parts: the part that I wrote yesterday after getting back from voting and the part that I wrote this evening after what started as a nailbiting session for me watching the returns come in last night that ended in both relief and satisfaction.
I became eligible to vote in 1975, and my first opportunity to vote was in the primary in 1976 on 25 May. Arkansas is an "open primary" state, meaning that you can vote in either the Democratic primary or the Republican primary as you wish, but not in both. This is unlike Kentucky where you have to register as a Democrat (and can vote only in the Democratic primary), a Republican (and can vote only in the Republican primary), or as an Independent (and can vote in no primary). I voted in the Democratic primary in 1976 because at the time the Republicans were very minor players in Arkansas.
I lived in the 3rd Congressional district, and no Democrat chose to run for the House of Representatives, so I did not vote for anyone for that. It was also an off year for the Senate for Arkansas, so I did not vote for anyone for that, either. Under the influence of my parents I made a mistake and voted for Orval Faubus in the primary!
In the Presidential race, the primary candidates were Jimmy Carter, George Wallace, Morris Udall, and Scoop Jackson. Once again, under the influence of my parents I made a mistake and voted for Wallace. Carter carried the state by a wide margin.
I voted for a political newcomer in the race for Attorney General. His name was Bill Clinton, and he easily won over George Jernigan and Clarence Cash. Interestingly, I voted for Clinton every time he ran for any office since then.
My next opportunity to vote was in the general election in 1976. I did not vote for the 3rd Congressional district as the Republican John Paul Hammerschmidt ran unopposed. As I said, there was no Senate race in Arkansas that year. I voted for Pryor for governor, who won over Leon Griffith and voted for Carter who won over Gerald Ford. Interestingly, I did not need to vote for Clinton for AG since he ran unopposed, but I did any way.
I do not remember who was running for the other statewide and local elections that year. It is amazing to me that I remember who was running for that I do remember.
My parents had always taken me when they voted since I was old enough to sit still for a few minutes. Voting then was very simple, just a pen and piece of paper. You would put a check or an X by the names that you wanted and turn the ballot into a worker. There was little privacy and the poll workers knew for whom everyone voted pretty much. I continued to vote either in person or by absentee ballot until I got out of college, graduate school, and a postdoctoral position and moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, always using my Hackett address (and properly so) in 1987.
I registered in Jefferson County to vote then, and had my first encounter with voting machines. These were the hulking, green ones that were completely mechanical. The panel looked very much like this one:
You would go to the front of the machine and pull a large lever that closed the curtains and unlocked the small levers. Then you would move whichever levers that you wanted into the appropriate position. For a given race, only one lever could be moved to vote for them, so if you changed your mind or made a mistake you had to deselect that lever before you could select the other one. When you were done, you moved the big lever to open the curtains, record your vote, and reset the machine to null.
I intensely dislike this type of method to record votes. There is not an iota of a paper trail insofar as individual paper ballots go, just the mechanical marks on a paper tape and the counters that only the election officials could access. After we moved away from Pine Bluff temporarily I continued to vote with absentee ballots until we moved back to Arkansas when I registered in White Hall, also in Jefferson County. Sure enough, the same kind of hulk was at that polling place as well! I voted on this type of machine until work took me to a couple of other states temporarily and then used absentee ballots.
These mechanical lever machines are no longer used anywhere in the United States as far as I can tell, with preference being given to electronic vote recorders. I am not any more a fan of those than the lever machines if you have to use the screen to vote, since there is no paper record of how people voted. There has been a lot of mischief with those machines, and I detest them.
I severed all residency ties with Arkansas in 2009 and registered to vote here in Madison County in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. As I mentioned, you have to register party affiliation here, so I registered as a Democrat for two reasons. First of all, being a Democrat is more of my nature certainly then being a Republican, but I would have registered as an Independent if Kentucky had open primaries. The second reason is that Kentucky, much like Arkansas has traditionally been a Democratic state and, also like Arkansas, there are usually more candidates in the Democratic primaries so I have more say early in the process.
The first votes that I cast as a Kentucky resident were in the 2010 general election. For some reason I missed the primary that year. My first vote for President Obama was by absentee vote in 2008 in the Arkansas primary and then the general election, and of course he was not up for reelection in 2010. I DID vote for Jack Conway for Senate, but Rand Paul won. Egads! I also voted for Ben Chandler (with a heavy heart, since he is a Blue Dog) and he won by 648 votes over the Republican Andy Barr. There was no gubernatorial election in 2010 in Kentucky, but I voted for Steve Beshear in the 2011 race, and he won.
Today ( I am writing this on Tuesday) I sojourned to my polling place and voted. I really like the way that votes are recorded in Kentucky. You get a real paper ballot (after showing picture ID, which I think is wrong) and use a real pen to mark it. It is a mark sense ballot, so after filling it out you feed it into the ballot reader. Your vote is tabulated electronically, but if anything fishy happens the physical paper ballots can be counted by hand. My ballot was not even a full page, and I was in and out in only a couple of minutes.
My ballot looked like this, except for the parts that are crossed out with marker. This was a generic county wide ballot, and obviously I do not live in all parts of the county, nor in an incorporated town. Thus, my ballot was much shorter.
By the way, I am not running for Commonwealth's Attorney, although the fellow who is has the same name as I, down to the middle initial! Note that you have the option of voting a straight party line on the ballot. I never do this because you lose your option to vote for nonpartisan candidates. Instead, I marked each choice separately. I voted for Obama/Biden, Chandler, Smart, Smith, Coyle, and against the constitutional amendment (I generally do not like monkeying with constitutions, and there is ample legislation to protect the rights of hunters and fishers).
I find it very nostalgic to mark real paper ballots with a real pen, just like the very first time that I voted! To me, having a real paper ballot in the bin is the kind of insurance that voters need in case of suspect activity, as I mentioned before. However, I also like the fact that the results are tabulated instantly and usually within an hour of the polls closing the results are available, unless something unusual happens.
Since Kentucky is not a swing state, my vote for the Obama/Biden ticket was more symbolic than meaningful. Romney/Ryan will carry Kentucky, and by a big margin. However, my vote for Chandler may be critical. Remember, he won his seat by only 648 votes over the same opponent in 2010, so my vote for him just might count. The votes for the state senate and house are also important. Currently, the Republicans control the senate by a margin of 22 to 15 (with one Independent) and I would like to get it back. Equally important, the house is controlled by the Democrats 59 to 41, and I would like to keep or expand that margin.
Now it is Wednesday afternoon. According to the unofficial results, the Kentucky senate lost a Democrat, so the tally is now 23 to 14 with one Independent. The house lost four Democrats, to it is now 45 to 55, still firmly in Democratic control. I would have liked for the results to have been the opposite, with Democrats getting more of the positions, but it could have been worse.
And it was. Ben Chandler lost the District 6 US House race, allowing a Republican to take the seat after the lame duck session. On a positive note, nationally it looks like the Democrats had net pickups both in the House and the Senate. Not enough in the House to regain control, but at least the trend is the right direction.
My other candidates won, but two were unopposed, another was nonpartisan, and the other one was the Democrat. The constitutional amendment about hunting and fishing overwhelmingly won.
The really good news is that we all know how the national election came out for President Obama. Interestingly, Kentucky was either the first or second state (Indiana was the other one) to be called by MSNBC for Romney. I told you that I like the paper ballot and electronic tallying!
All in all, it was a pretty good day for progressives yesterday. Some of the worst members of Congress were fired, and some potentially horrible ones were not hired. For the first time EVER, the People of more than one state voted to allow same sex marriage rather than legislatures or the courts allowing it. Two states voted to legalize Cannabis for recreational use, which I find astounding. This is going to be interesting when these laws go to the Federal court system since it is still on the DEA Schedule I, completely banned except for research purposes (states with medical Cannabis notwithstanding). As an aside, my native state rejected medical Cannabis by 52 to 48 per cent, which is closer than I would have guessed. I thought it would fail by a much larger margin. My friends in Arkansas tell me that the supporters are already getting back to work for next time.
The only regret that I have, other than Chandler losing, was that my GOTV effort sort of failed. Sure enough, The Woman got her voter registration card but she was out of town yesterday. Early voting is not allowed in Kentucky, and it is one of the dinosaur states that require a written excuse for an absentee ballot. Her trip came up sort of unexpectedly, so she was out of luck. Her parents' cards never showed up, but they waited too long before mailing them. Maybe next time!
Oh, this just came to me. I had another opportunity to vote in 1976. In my introduction of psychology class at the community college the instructor, Dr. Dana, asked us to write down our choices for President and Vice President (this was before the election). She did not specifically say that they had to be the candidates that had the nominations, so I wrote in Timothy Leary for President and Abbie Hoffman for Vice-President. She was going through the stack of papers and got a big grin.
"Who voted for Tim?!!! I used to work for him!" It turns out that she was a graduate student at Harvard back in the day! We had a couple of conversations about what he was doing with his psychedelic experiments. According to her, he was pretty serious at first but gave in to his baser instincts. At the time that he was asked to leave Harvard, she told me that instead of controlled environments and serious scientific study, Leary was giving large amounts of LSD to students. As I recall her words, she said, "The crazier that they got, the more he got off on it."
My opinion of Dr. Leary is not nearly as admiring as it once was, and she had something to do with my reevaluation of him. I think that he started out with good intentions but before long things were mostly about him. Remember, he did speaking tours with G. Gordon Liddy, that reprobate, just for money. But that is a piece for Popular Culture.
That about does it for tonight. I shall be around for comments most all of the evening unless something changes for the better.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith