GROB: Please refrain from mocking mock elections

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

I didn’t take the photo, it was an acquaintance of mine on Facebook who shared it.

It was a picture of a sign hung by the powers-that-be outside of a voting area somewhere.

“NO CAMPAIGN MATERIALS OR CLOTHING ALLOWED IN POLLING PLACE,” the sign said.

I was reminded of the importance of punctuation and sentence structure, because if you read that message literally, it’s essentially telling you you’re not supposed to wear any clothes when you’re voting. The sign insists on nude voting.

James Grob
James Grob

My response was, “Now I’m sorry I voted early and missed all the naked people.”

I know, it was kind of a childish thing to say, but at the moment I thought it was clever. A lot of people agreed, the photo got a lot of “likes” and “shares.” I believe that was less because of my cleverness and more because people appreciated a rare moment of comic relief on election day.

Election day mercifully ended the campaign season on Tuesday night, and I hope your side won.

Honestly, I do. I hope that, however you voted, the final results gave you something to feel good about.

It was a strange election, not just locally, but nationally, and it seems to me that both sides had some things to please them and some things to disappoint them.

Almost every candidate who was running and every pundit who was analyzing said something hyperbolic, along the lines of “this is the most important election of our lifetime.”

That statement is true only in the context that every election is the most important election of our lifetime, until the next election. Every election we’ve ever had in this nation has been slightly more important than the previous one, and that will continue to be the case until the last one.

There are times when I fear that the last election will be very soon, but after Tuesday, I believe the last election is still a long time from happening. By all accounts, voter turnout was very high. Many races were very close. Voters split tickets everywhere. The big winner of the election was participation, the big loser was apathy. People still care.

As a writer at community newspapers for most of my adult life, I’ve always gotten the opportunity to see elections from a different perspective. Of course, I have my own strongly-held political views, opinions and ideals. At the same time, I usually get the opportunity to meet and talk with nearly every candidate, face to face.

It doesn’t take long to learn there are things I have in common with the candidate, regardless of how opposed I may or may not be to that candidate’s policies. This tempers and moderates whatever views I have.

What I’m saying is, with a handful of unique exceptions, it’s really hard to hate someone, once you get to know them. That even applies to most politicians.

About a week before the election, about 40,000 students across Iowa participated in an unscientific straw poll, which was sponsored by the office of Iowa Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate. Here in Charles City, 198 students in Robert Pittman’s social studies classes voted. This is a good thing. Students don’t just vote, they learn how to vote intelligently. They delve into what the candidates say and what their actions have been. I wrote up a little article about the results.

I was astounded by the negative reaction from a handful of local people.

“Ask em why … see if they know … the schools are brainwashing them,” one person wrote on our Facebook page. Another called the school district an “indoctrination center.” Another said  “it’s pretty much throwing liberal views down their throat.”

For some reason, there was a weird debate over what television news programs the students watch, even though there was nothing about television or news in the article.

I realize that these social media warriors aren’t exactly Iowa’s best and brightest, but none of these brilliant commenters had done even a fraction of the research the local students had done. They might have realized this, had they taken one minute to actually read the article. In fact, one of the more vociferous and opinionated commenters proudly proclaimed that he hadn’t read it.

In the article, Mr. Pittman said that the students in his classes don’t just look at what the candidates say in their campaigns, but they track the candidates’ voting history online to see what they’ve actually done.

There were some comments from people who had actually read the story, who expressed that it was a positive thing that the students were being taught to research the candidates.

“Perhaps the most important thing that students get out of the mock election experience is that they get a test run on how to vote thoroughly,” Pittman said in the article. “They look at all the candidates, they look at the issues they care about and investigate them thoroughly. We hope as adults, they do the same.”

I hope so too, Mr. Pittman. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Why bother to investigate things thoroughly when it’s so much easier to share your ignorance on social media?

I have no idea if any of these geniuses who mocked the mock election actually voted in the real one.

If any of them did — if they were actually able to find their way into a voting booth and mark a ballot — they certainly weren’t as informationally equipped as those 198 students of Mr. Pittman were.

It’s sad, I think, to have such large and loud opinions and ideas based on such a tiny whisper of knowledge and understanding.

Some of them, I’ll bet, were voting naked.

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