BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
It’s been a while since I’ve told humorous, telling, inspiring, and sometimes even instructive, stories from election campaigns. With the season winding down, it’s time to regale you with the tales and themes emerging from the electoral scene.
A volunteer had just been let in to an elderly woman’s (the voter) home by her daughter. The woman had lost/discarded/not received her ballot, and a replacement had been obtained. The volunteer no sooner sat down to explain the process of voting and show the medzmyreeg how to complete her ballot, when a young woman (who turned out to be a granddaughter) emerged from the bathroom in full-attack-mode, trumpeting something to the effect of “you can’t tell us how to vote.” This was very strange, since the conversation had barely started. Things rapidly degenerated and the volunteer fell into the trap of “never argue with a fool, people might not know the difference.” The granddaughter-from-hell first insisted that she “always voted” as if she were the person in question. Then she expressed concern over voting for “someone who went against her beliefs.” All this time, the voter’s daughter (i.e. the hell-spawn’s mother) was trying to calm the rampage, advocating that medzmyreeg be allowed to cast her ballot. Finally, things got so bad and tense that the volunteer got up to leave. But then, in a twist of irony that would impress even Jon Stewart, the granddaughter sought to prevent the volunteer from leaving until she called the police! At which point, the volunteer asked that the police indeed be summoned, told the hell-spawn where s/he could be found, and walked out.
In another incident, a canvasser (one who goes door-to-door during an election) knocked on a voter’s (a non-Armenian) door, pitched the candidate (an Armenian), and was treated to an assault on the candidate’s person and nationality. Wisely, the canvasser quickly and politely ended the conversation and left. Before reaching the sidewalk, the canvasser was called back. Thinking the voter was going to apologize for his outlandish behavior, the canvasser turned back, only to miss being struck, by the barest of inches, by a flowerpot the voter had thrown at the canvasser.
These stories manifest a few of the problems society as a whole, various communities, and candidates (Armenian and non-Armenian), face – ignorance, anti-Armenian sentiments, misunderstandings of the electoral process, egos, laziness, etc.
What the granddaughter from hell manifested was a notion I’m now convinced has become dangerously embedded among a small, but not insignificant, portion of the Armenian community. The idea that putting forth an endorsement and then explaining the reasons for it is somehow “telling” in the sense of obliging, forcing, people how to vote sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly the idea that has taken hold. Perhaps Armenian voters are becoming more sophisticated which is a very good development, but are still somewhat insecure. This would explain the bravado of “you can’t tell me how to vote” as a cover for the insecurity. We now have to convey to these more aware voters the role of various advocacy groups (Armenian and non) in putting out relevant information about, and support of/opposition to, candidates and ballot measures. Thus will these voters become even better participants in the electoral process.
Then we have the non-voting problem. The claims are:
– “I’m too busy/I don’t have time”—hard to believe when it only takes two/three minutes to fill out a mail-in ballot;
– “It doesn’t matter/my vote won’t make a difference”—wrong again, and the best example is the March city council election in the City of San Gabriel where a challenger lost by JUST TWO VOTES after a hand-recount!
– “I don’t like candidate X”—that’s fair, but why should that prevent voting for other candidates in other races? e.g. a voter sees no one desirable in a State Assembly race, but on that same ballot are candidates for Congress, President, etc.;
– “They’re all the same/they’re all crooks/they’re all in it just for themselves”—all these claims are patently false, even if they hold some kernels of truth; good people not voting simply leads to the worst candidates getting elected, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy situation; the egotistical, “I’m too good for this” attitude inherent in these attitudes is destructive of democracy.
The question of participation returns us to the campaign/volunteer/involvement side of the discussion. Over the last few years, the idea that campaign work—calling voters, knocking on doors, distributing literature, tabling at events, registering voters—is work that “the kids” should be doing. This is not to say that high-school and college-aged people should not be involved in and learning to love elections – a cornerstone of democracy. But it is to say that just because you’re over thirty, doesn’t mean you get to sit out the election season as an armchair-critic! In one organization I’m a part of, some of the most active, effective, and prolific electoral activists are close to 80-years old!
But there’s some good news, too. One voter surprisedly told a volunteer, “Wow, I didn’t realize voting was so easy!” In another case, during an intense discussion, a new-to-the family husband witnessed his wife being severely criticized for not caring either way about voting. This led him to swear he would always vote because he realized how important it is to do so. And, on the volunteering side, a new-to-election-and-ANCA-scene volunteer who has a prosthetic leg out-canvassed any three other volunteers combined. This is the kind of shining example to be emulated.
Please remember, voting and urging others to vote is critical to our nation’s progress. Do it!