Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Voted Today

Over 98% of Michigan residents who are eligible this year were registered to vote in today's election. Over ?? of them are expected to vote today. I'm proud to say that I'm among them.

What I'm not so proud to say is that today marks the first time I've ever voted. It surprises a lot of people I know but it's true, I've never voted before. Not once, even though I've had ample opportunity. But even though I seem to be so tuned in to politics and the elections and everything else (I'm not, really, I think I just pay more attention to everything than most.) I've never bothered before. I've either been away at school or out of the country or even just to apathetic to care – it's not like my one vote, after all, could ever have made a difference. And in those few years when I have actually felt motivated to vote, I've always wound up putting off registering until the last moment only to miss one deadline or another.

Not this year. I sent out my application over the summer, well in advance, just to make sure. Had my voter's card returned just in time for the primary although I didn't bother to vote then since it was such a joke. Obama and Edwards weren't on the ballot in Michigan, remember, because of the fight over the contest being moved up, leaving it to Clinton in a race of one. And I just couldn't stomach crossing the aisle and trying to throw some chaos into the Republican race.

I'm registered as an Independent, by the way, because I don't believe in strong party identification. I'd prefer to vote the issues rather than a blind party line. But I might as well be a Democrat because it'll be a long time before I ever consider voting Republican.

I did vote for the Green Party candidate for the House of Representatives in my district, if only because I also couldn't stomach the idea of voting for Kilpatrick's mother. I was really hoping she would have lost to Waters in the primary but I was out of town that day and couldn't manage to figure out the absentee provisions so I, again, didn't bother to vote. Wouldn't have matter much anyways.

I also voted yes on both propositions on the ballot this year. The first was to legalize medical marijuana which is expected to pass handily. Opponents say it's a stepping stone on the road to decriminalizing marijuana entirely. Since I wouldn't have a problem with that, I'm all for the idea.

The second, though, is less of certainty. Polling about propositions is notoriously inaccurate but, heading into today, at least, it was running about dead even. Prop 2 is about embryonic stem cell research which is an extremely complicated issue. I got into a lengthy discussion about it with my mother over the weekend since she's planning to vote against. Neither of us were very committed to our position and spent most of the time just trying to justify our opinions even to ourselves because we're, as my mother put it, “conflicted”. I don't have the religious objections to the development of new stem cell lines that my mother seems to have but I can understand why it makes people uncomfortable. It's a complicated issue and the wording of the proposition is complicated as well.

And the campaign of distortion and distraction waged by both sides of the debate in the weeks leading up to the decision hasn't helped. The pro-2 position says derregulating stem cell research in Michigan (where the creation of new stem cell lines is currently prohibited) will lead to cures. Something that hasn't happened yet, even though stem cell research is promising and even though there are a few potential medicines undergoing clinical trials at the moment. And they also say it'll bring grant money to the state, bringing with it well-paid research jobs that are going elsewhere. A compelling argument in a state as beleaguered as Michigan but it's not like they're going to be offsetting the tens of thousands of jobs about to be lost in the automaker's collapse.

The anti-2 side, on the other hand, are, if anything, even worse. They say this measure opens the door for human cloning and repellent animal hybrids. That the funding for this research is going to be paid for with new and higher taxes. Again a compelling argument in a state as economically disadvantaged as Michigan but also one that's unsupported by the evidence. Proposition 2 is merely about removing the ability of the state to regulate this embryonic stem cell research, instead entrusting any such guidelines to the federal government's oversight. There's nothing in there about public or private funding and certainly nothing about raising taxes. That it might cost the taxpayers money is just a projection, a prediction, and a shakey one at that.

In the end, though, I wound up confirming my initial impulse to support the measure. Stem cells might not be the magic cure they're made out to be but I think it's at least worth the chance. Any research, as far as I'm concerned, can only be a net positive to humanity as a whole and we need as much as we can get. Any ethical research, of course, which is where a lot of people part company with me since embryonic is another word for fetal and these cells are coming from discarded fertile cells. But, as far as I can understand, it's not coming from human harvesting or paying for aborted children, but, instead, from waste material produced by fertility clinics as part of their treatments. From cells that would otherwise simply be thrown away. I don't necessarily like where those cells originate but as long as they're made they might as well be made to be useful before they're destroyed, as far as I'm concerned.

And, at the same time, I find the campaign against the measure to be dishonest and disgusting. I think, in so many words, that when one side is asking you take the positive case and to hope for the best while the other sides is lying to you in order to get you to fear the worst that it's probably better to go for the side that's asking for you to be optimistic. Hope is a powerful trap but, sometimes, it's worth believing in. And when it comes to cures and health, sometimes, I think it's the only thing we've got.

So, that's the way I voted. As for my polling place, I went in the afternoon where I've heard that the waits is the shortest. Despite reports of long lines and large waits, I didn't have any problem. There was a bit of a line although not much more than ten people. I got there a little late and I'm actually kind of glad that I did. One woman I spoke with said she'd been there earlier, when I actually planned to to show up, and the line had been stretching out of the door. I'd been smart, though, and brought a book. But I didn't even have a chance to read more than 5 pages before it was time to fill out my forms and cast my ballot. I walked to the polling place, instead of taking my customary afternoon stroll and, all in all, it took me less than an hour to walk there, vote, and get back home.

But I did it. I voted. It's taken me far too long but I've never felt so proud.

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