Freelining with Mike Freeman: Cherishing the right to vote.

Although Florida will host a highly competitive Republican presidential primary on Jan. 31, the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office was quiet when Freeline Media editor Mike Freeman dropped by to register for the primary. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

I officially did it today: registered as a Republican.
Not for long, just long enough to qualify for the Jan. 31 presidential primary here in the Sunshine State, which as we all know is a one-sided political event. Nobody on the Democratic Party side stepped forward to challenge President Barack Obama’s re-nomination, so all the action is with the very crowded Republican primary – which, the way things have been going, probably won’t have an obvious front-runner for long. There have been too many false front-runners so far, or at least candidates who appeal most strongly to the Anybody-but-Mitt-Romney anti-establishment crowd.
So I figured, why skip the primary just because I’m not registered with the Florida Republican Party?

I’ve always thought the concept of closed primaries was petulant and silly, particularly when the Sunshine State has so many folks like me who are so-called independents, or voters not affiliated with one party, because we’re not strong enough ideologues to fit comfortably with either the Democrats or Republicans (or Libertarians or Socialists or Green Party, etc.)
So, like a lot of Floridians who find the concept of party affiliation to be rather distasteful, I’ll remain a Republican long enough to vote in the high profile primary next month – and public relations hacks in the Florida GOP, please don’t bombard me with literature, I’m just a brief guest at your party, here for the chips and dip and wine, but not an all-nighter – and then move back to my happy unaffiliated, mushy moderate status.
But while I visited the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office on Kaley Avenue today, I did notice some interesting things.
First, the place was empty at 1:30 p.m. It should have been well past lunch break for most folks. At least I didn’t have to wait in line.
When I told the customer service representative what I wanted to do, she smiled and said “Sure!” Then she handed me a Florida Voter Registration Application, and explained that I needed to check off boxes 2-8, and then 16 – my signature.
Most of the questions were routine stuff – address, date of birth, Florida driver’s license number, and so on.
But there were a few additional questions I found to be interesting.
One was “Are you a citizen of the United States of America – yes or no.” Next to that is a line highlighted in bold, “If NO, you cannot register to vote.”) I wonder how many non-residents actually show up asking if they can vote. And I wonder how many immigrants would actually want to vote for the current crop of GOP candidates, compared to the millions – and millions – of us native born Americans who are likely to skip the primary – and next year’s general election – in their home state because they’re apathetic and never bother to vote. I suppose we’ll never know.
Another question asked, “I affirm I have not been adjudicated mentally incapacitated with respect to voting, or, if I have, my right to vote has been restored.”
First, it took me about 10 minutes to understand the question. Only government could write a sentence like that. What exactly does “adjudicated mentally incapacitated” mean, and how do you become “incapacitated” in regards to voting? If I’m suffering from a mental illness, does that mean I could somehow mess things up in the voting booth? How? By voting for Perry or Bachmann over Gingrich or Romney? By writing in the name of a Democrat instead? How can you be considered too mentally ill to vote?
I had a sneaking suspicion that if I had ever been “adjudicated mentally incapacitated,” I’d have remembered something like that, so I felt confident checking that box off.
The last one asked me to “affirm I am not a convicted felon, or, if I am, my rights relating to voting have been restored.”
Florida is one of those states that denies certain “civil rights” to convicted felon, even after they get released from prison. That includes the right to serve on a jury, join the military, hold certain occupational licenses, own a gun – and vote.
Why the states do this, I have no clue. The point of prison is to make society safer by incarcerating those who have violated our laws – and, one hopes, to work with the inmate toward rehabilitation. By the time they get released from prison and have served their sentence and paid their dues to society, we expect them to reintegrate into their home community and become fully productive citizens.
And so what does the state turn around and do? Brand them as people who still don’t deserve civil rights – kind of like a Scarlet X on their head: once a criminal, always a criminal. But don’t forget, folks, you still need to become productive citizens again. We’ll just make it tough for you by tossing up some ridiculous roadblocks on your path to success. Now, go succeed!

Ah, government. Has a more idiotic institution ever been created?
I have no idea why we say you can’t vote if you’ve spent time in prison. What if convicted felons wanted to vote in the GOP presidential primary for the toughest law and order candidate? Would something bad happen to all of us if they all went en mass for, say, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, if they were assuming he’d crack the whip the hardest on criminals?
It’s funny to think of how our government dangles voting before our eyes as a precious gift, given generously only to those of us who were born in this great nation or showed good taste by becoming a naturalized citizen, or who have never gone to prison, or who have never been “adjudicated mentally incapacitated” (I still haven’t figured that one out) – and then so few of us even go to the polls.
Of course, it could be that so many of us recognize that most of the candidates are shameless pandering twits who spend months trying to “please the base” (grovel before ideological nuts on both side) before they veer centrist for the general election. Maybe it’s because most of them speak in pitifully shopworn clichés (I won’t raise your taxes, I’ll protect critical social programs, I won’t cut aid to education, I won’t spend a dime on welfare) that are probably tested by the same folks who make a lot of those really bad car commercials. Have any of you ever stopped to figure out the last time you actually voted for someone you truly believed in, as opposed to voting against the most wretched alternative?
As it turns out, I have found a candidate I like quite a bit on the Republican side, so I won’t be going into the voting booth on Jan. 31 to cause mischief by selecting the biggest turkey in the lot, or holding my nose and figuring This one isn ‘t as awful as the rest … but actually casting my vote for someone I think could actually make a pretty decent president.
And to those of you who have been denied the right to vote — because you were not born here, or you’re a felon, or you’re mentally incapacitated — I hate to admit this, but …. You’re truly not missing much.

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