How I did my civic duty – and kind of liked it
November 24, 2006
I am as civic-minded as the next person. I hold my nose and vote for the least objectionable candidate. On ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments in particular, I vote no if it is very long and not written in understandable English. I vote no a lot.This year, mortally tired of the attack ads, I decided to vote early so I wouldn’t have to pay attention to them. I found that if you vote early and the whole choice thing is over, you can enjoy the political ads as tasteless entertainment. Where I was angered before, I began to enjoy them when they went over the top. They were like parodies on “Saturday Night Live.”I drove to town to deliver my early paper ballot to the county clerk’s office. I was pulling into the clerk’s parking lot when I noticed a police car with bubble lights flashing behind me. For once I was paying attention, using the turn signals, driving slowly, all the good driver stuff. I could have been a poster boy for a driving school. The policeman came up to the car and asked, “Have you looked at the back of your car lately?”Oh, shoot! Somebody’s whacked the back of my car. I jump out of my car and run to the back. Nothing. Just the back of my car. “What?” I ask, my brilliant and observing mind in full action. “What?”He points at the back of my car. The same nothing. “The license plate,” says he. I look. My plate is more than a year lapsed, and I have been driving all over town, county and state. I have looked at that license plate a bazillion times during the last year.My ever-incisive mind comes up with “Gulp!” My next thought is the never-fail defensive tactic of falling on the ground and begging for mercy. Before I can throw myself on the dirt beside his feet, my daughter shows up for some reason. “You’re not going to give my dad a ticket?” she asks.”He’s your dad?” This the policeman says with a tone of great pity. Daughter dearest knows the police person from her stint working for the city court. “Yep.” She shakes her head sadly and puts on her forlorn face that usually makes me do anything she wants me to do. After painful consideration, the policeman allowed that since I was already there, I could go into the clerk’s office to renew my license.I went into the building and noticed a bunch of people in line waiting to be instructed as poll judges. One of them knew me and said they were short of judges – a lot. I ignored him and went into the license plate room. In there I was told I couldn’t get a license because I needed an emissions test. “I’ll go right now and get one,” I said. “I wouldn’t if I were you,” the clerk shot back. “The cops lurk outside the testing place and give tickets to guys like you. You need a temporary license that you paste in your back window.”I get one. I drive past the lurking fuzz. I hurry back to the office, test in hand. The people who are training to be judges are now out on break. My acquaintance shakes his head sadly and says, “They’re really short of judges.”I am feeling kindly disposed to things governmental because the policeman cut me loose and then the nice man in the licensing bureau warned me about cops in the bushes and I avoided a second ticket. So I volunteered to be a judge. I attended four hours of training, got up at 5 a.m. to set up the voting booths for the precinct, complete with electronic voting machine, and worked until almost 10 that night. Yes, the electronic machine broke down almost immediately and everything was paper ballots – as it should be.Now, civic-duty folks may look down their noses and tell you they helped others to vote for purely nonpolitical reasons. A sense of pure civic obligation that you obviously did not have, they sniff. Nonsense. It was probably closer to why I did my civic duty: gratitude and someone asked me. And I enjoyed it.Rob Pudim is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes and draws editorial cartoons in Boulder, Colo.