I’ve never missed voting. I’ve had to fight for it at times, but I have voted in every election since I was old enough. The closest I ever came to not voting was when I was serving in the military.
I was stationed on a Coast Guard Cutter and we were steaming in the Bering Sea. We were patrolling that imaginary line in the sea between the old USSR and the United States. It is the only place on earth where the two nations share a common border. And yes--Gov. Palin was right--you can see Russia from Alaska.
I knew I was going to require an absentee ballot because the Cutter Boutwell* was not scheduled to return from her Alaska Patrol until after Election Day. So I dutifully filled out my request and mailed it in to the King County (Seattle) Election Board.
Well into October I still hadn’t received my absentee ballot. I was the ship’s Communications Officer, so I handled all the incoming mail. Every time we got mail, I was thrilled to get a letter for each day from my fiancée. But no absentee ballot.
I contacted Seattle via teletype: “Where’s my absentee ballot?” I sent several follow-up messages with no response. I was becoming concerned.
One evening, after dinner and a movie, I heard a sharp rap on the door of my stateroom. It was our Executive Officer. He never visited any of us. We were always summoned to his stateroom. This might not be pleasant.
“What’s this [same word as a White House official describing an Israeli Prime Minister] about your sending teletype messages back to Seattle?”
“Oh, that, ” I said, relieved it was nothing more serious. “Well, Commander,” I responded cheerily, “I have applied for my absentee ballot and have not received it. I need to fill it out and make sure I get it in the outgoing mail so it can arrive at the King County Election Board in time to be counted. We have less than two weeks until Election Day, Sir.”
The XO’s face darkened. He was not soothed by my breezy explanation.
“We don’t have time for such things. And I don’t want you sending any more teletype messages to Seattle about voting. Besides, it’s only an off-year election. It’s not that important.”
“Sir, respectfully, I have to vote. It’s why we are out here.” He was not happy with my answer and he left the stateroom, slamming the heavy metal door behind him.
Happily, I received my absentee ballot in the next batch of incoming mail. And with it a fistful of letters from my beloved. I quickly filled out the ballot and slipped it—as inconspicuously as I could—in the next day’s outgoing mail.
My Executive Officer was a dedicated career Coast Guardsman with many responsibilities. I didn’t want to make his burden greater. But I was determined to keep my perfect record of never having missed voting.
Every day that autumn, I was part of the boarding inspection team that boarded those Soviet trawlers. Everybody in the old USSR voted, too, and their votes meant nothing. “What counts is not who votes,” said the cynical old Communist dictator of the USSR, Josef Stalin. “What matters is who counts the votes.” That was as true under Stalin as it is under Putin.
It was no exaggeration to say what I said to the XO. We were on patrol checking on fisheries, to be sure, but the reason the U.S. Coast Guard policed those waters at all was so that American freedom would be preserved. And we served on the frontier of freedom.
Pollsters tell us that only 39% of Americans look forward to voting next Tuesday. I am happy a higher percentage--49% of Evangelical Christians--tell pollsters they are very eager to vote next Tuesday. I only winh 100% of us would exercise this precious right. It was indeed bought for us by the blood of patriots, many of them our fellow Christians.
I pray that all of us who have not yet taken part in early voting or sent in our absentee ballots will make it a point to show up at the polls. Some of my friends tell me they’re not enthusiastic about going to the polls. It may be the case that some candidates in some places have not made their best arguments to earn the support of Values Voters.
My answer to these friends is another lesson I learned in the service: Damage Control. We may not be thrilled with where our ship is headed at the moment, but we have a much better chance of a course correction if the ship hasn’t sunk. Next Tuesday, we can all go out and vote for Damage Control.
And then we can all work to steer a better course.
*Recently, the Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell seized some $480 million worth of cocaine. This was the largest seizure in history. And it was achieved by a ship first launched in 1967.