Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Reason I Didn't Vote

My state has just completed its first-ever gubernatorial primary for a Democrat to become Virginia's highest elected official. Republicans, committed to breaking a string of electoral defeats that have seen popular, progressive figures occupying the governor's mansion and other high offices in this traditionally conservative state, united early behind former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell. So there was no Republican primary.

But this is not the reason that I didn't vote.

Terry McAuliffe (right) as Dracula. Fail.

The reason for my not voting had nothing at all to do with a lack of enthusiasm for the process, or any candidate. I was full of enthusiasm last year, to the point of knocking on doors and making phone calls in support of one particular candidate, who nonetheless was able to win without my support at the ballot box.

To explain what kept me from the polls will require a little backstory, and a suspension of the general rule that I don't drag my personal life onto this page.

About ten years ago, a man from Tennessee named John McGaha came across a well-expired learner's permit, featuring a photo of Yours Truly at age fifteen. McGaha, who was a heroin addict in his twenties, tried using it to pass a bad check at Safeway. This landed him in the county jail. But there was a silver lining. While even the lowly grocer was able to spot a bogus ID when he saw one, the genius booking officer on duty that day took it for granted and processed the grizzled McGaha based on my very clean criminal record. A trial was conducted, guilty plea entered, and a short sentence served.

They only held him for three months, and he wasted no time on being released to head for hippie meccas like Eugene, Oregon and San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury District. I know this because these are two more places where he was able to duck charges by placing my good name into the line of fire.

There would be others. Thanks to the tireless efforts of my doppelganger, and the tiresome prevarications of a pitiless and wholly inert bureaucracy, I now have a rap sheet a mile long. It should only shrink, considering that he is no longer active. Whatsoever. The leech died a rapturous death at the end of a needle inside of two years from striking gold with his handy little get-out-of-jail-free card. But there is nothing free in this life. Someone, somewhere, must pay. The County of Henrico has made it very clear that it will not be them.

And there is a cost. Some of it can be measured in dollars. Some of it, loosely, in diminished career opportunities, and time lost that can never be recovered. This is not to mention the general existential problem that the very essence of my moral identity has been forever comprimised---as far as posterity is concerned---outside of a vanishingly small number of people familiar with the details. Being able to publish this account may help in some small measure, though you are obliged to take my word for it.

Now, I've had a good decade to reconcile myself with the fact that none of this is likely to change, ever. Of course there are many possible futures, even ones in which the precise set of conditions are met to make up the difference and compensate for these losses. It could happen. I am hopeful. But at the end of the day, I find it necessary to prepare for the possibility that nothing will improve. Experience has taught me that there's no special reason to believe otherwise.

However. One area into which this fatalism does not extend is that of my civil rights. Here is at least one protection under the law that (you'd think) authorities have no choice but to honor.

But I tell you it don't come easy. A special injuction was required, for instance, in order to restore my voting privileges in the 2000 election, allowing me to vote for George Bush. You're welcome. The same privilege was upheld four years later when I voted in Fort Myers, Florida without incident. Not until Virginia came into play last year as somewhat of a battleground state in its own right did I experience any trouble. It was at this time that several key interest groups, vying for every advantage, placed intense pressure upon the state registrar to comb through the voting rolls with the aim of bringing them up-to-date.

Setting aside the likely ulterior political motives of those involved, the ostensible reason was making sure that any warm bodies which might be bothered to exercise their civic duty wouldn't be unnecessarily disenfranchised come Election Day. Although Virginia's constitution makes it one of only two states that indefinitely bar convicted felons from the vote, there is a process for offenders to get permission from the governor's office to have their rights reinstated. Step one of working within existing state law to empower as many of these individuals as possible was to find out who has been convicted of a felony. To do this, the commonwealth consulted not just the traditional State Police record, but also Federal District Court databases---in which case I was fucked.

So in the effort to extend the vote to as many Virginians as possible, I lost the right. I believe this meets the technical definition of irony.

More on this to come.

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