Saturday, November 08, 2008

I Voted Again

I guess you've probably heard that we elected a new president recently.

I was one of the many people who voted, and when I turned in my ballot, they tried to give me one of those "I Voted" stickers. You may recall from an earlier post that I have a real problem with those "I Voted" stickers, the problem being that they're a waste of paper and they're not recyclable.

So when the guy tried to give me a sticker, I told him I didn't want it. Perhaps to get me to reconsider my decision, he told me that it was good for a free drink at Starbuck's. I told him the sticker wasn't recyclable and one or two people chuckled briefly. Then I left.

By the way, I am well-aware, as a friend of mine pointed out, that whether I accepted the sticker or not, the environmental damage had been done. The sticker was still going to be thrown out -- if not by me then by some other voter or some Starbuck's employee or some election worker who was in charge of getting rid of all the left-over stickers. So my refusal to accept the sticker was entirely symbolic. I understand that.

But I have a hard time accepting the fact that places like Starbuck's are essentially bribing people to vote. To me, it's the same sort of thing as parents paying their children when they get good grades. Parents, if you don't understand why you shouldn't pay your kids when they get good grades, I'm not going to explain it to you -- you are already lost. But kids, there's still some hope for you, so I'll give it a shot: Bribery is bad. Good grades don't have a cash value. The value of a good education is that you learn things, not that your mom or dad will pay you for doing well. Besides, if you're capable of getting good grades, you shouldn't need any additional motivation, such as the lure of a few dollars.

But getting back to Starbuck's and the election, I hope our democracy hasn't been reduced to a system in which we encourage people to vote by offering them free coffee drinks.

And I don't mean to pick unduly on Starbuck's. It turns out that across our great country, according to an article I read, various businesses were offering free merchandise to people who voted. For example, Krispy Kreme was offering star-shaped doughnuts with red, white and blue sprinkles to voters. And at least two adult stores in New York City were offering free sex toys to anyone who voted. There were a lot more stores according to the article, but those are the only ones I can remember. And I have no doubt that for our next major election, the number of places offering free gifts to voters will be even greater. Furthermore, maybe decades from now, children will probably sit on their parents' laps and listen to stories about the olden days when people voted because they felt it was their civic duty, and not because it was a good way to get free doughnuts or dildoes or whatever.

But here's the thing. The guy at my polling place turned out to be wrong. You didn't need the sticker to get the free drink at Starbuck's. According to the article, all you had to do was tell them you voted -- they didn't ask for proof. So, on election day, you could have gone to every Starbuck's in your community -- there are probably over twenty in mine -- and gotten a free drink in each one. Then you could have hit all the Krispy Kreme stores and gotten your fill of star-shaped doughnuts. And, yeah, if you happened to be in New York City at the time, you could have dropped in at those two sex stores. But even if you weren't, chances are there were a lot of other places that were giving away free stuff to people who said they voted.

The key thing, of course, is that you didn't actually have to vote -- all you had to do was say you voted, since they didn't ask for the sticker as proof. So, as I maintained from the outset, the stickers are absolutely unnecessary, as well as being a needless waste of paper and drain on our natural resources.

I'm old enough to remember when they didn't hand out stickers to people who voted, so I'm optimistic that we'll come to our senses one day and abandon that childish practice. On the other hand, I think even back when I was in school, some parents were paying their kids to get good grades. It probably wasn't nearly as widespread as it is today, but it's been going on for so long and it's probably so ingrained in our culture that it's too late to do anything about it now. On the other hand, we're supposedly entering an era of change, so maybe that behavior will someday change as well.