Around noon on Friday, I bumped into Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in front of City Hall, where he had joined a massive crowd awaiting the free performance by the La Nouba entertainers from Cirque du Soleil.
Several hours later, Dyer’s office issued a statement reminding residents to get out and vote, because election day is coming up on Tuesday, Nov. 6 — but more importantly, Florida residents can take advantage of early voting that starts tomorrow and ends on Saturday, Nov. 3.
“It is important to have as many citizens as possible participating in the electoral process,” noted Dyer, who got re-elected in a landslide in last April’s municipal elections. “By exercising your right to vote in these elections, you become a key part of the decision in what amendments get passed and who will represent you in your government.”
And I thought, well, fine — been there, done that.
Right after the La Nouba performance, I went to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office on Kaley Avenue. My concern was the potential for long lines both on Election Day or during early voting, so I opted instead to request an absentee ballot on the last day before early voting started.
It was, happily, a smart move. There were no crowds, no lines, and I got right to a clerk, who put a request for my ballot into the machine, and then asked me to have a seat and wait for another elections worker to call my name.
As it turned out, I never even made it to a chair.
“Is there a Mike …. Freeman?” the clerk called out, and I was instantly at the desk, being handed a three page ballot, with at least two of the pages devoted to a series of badly worded referendums, either ones for all Florida voters to decide that were put onto the ballot by the Florida Legislature, or ones pertaining to the Orange County Charter. As you can probably guess, the bulk of my interest was not with these questions.
So I took my absentee ballot and went into a polling booth, and cast my votes, skipping none of them.
At least one of the races featured only one candidate, the incumbent, so I cast a write-in vote — for a convicted felon, my friend and occasional Freeline Media contributor Alpha Male Ryan. In a sense, it was my way of reminding myself that as a convicted felon, Ryan is prohibited by law from voting. It’s a right that a lot of Americans, myself included, have as an option, if we bother to exercise it. As we all sadly know, millions of us don’t bother.
I voted, then sealed my ballot in an envelope and handed it back to the clerk, then left.
It’s a strange feeling to vote 11 days before Election Day. You might stop to think, Well, what if I change my mind at the last minute? What if something happens in the next week that leaves me feeling angry and disappointed about the man who got my vote for president? What if the candidate I didn’t vote for did something that I found inspiring, even invigorating, that I hadn’t expected?
That’s normally why I don’t vote early.
The truth is, though, that for a long time I was in that tiny percentage of voters who had been genuinely undecided. Neither a committed Dmeocrat nor a loyal Republican, I personally like both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. And like millions of others, I felt frustrated by Obama’s handling of an economy that simply would not kick into high gear, and Romney’s many, many flips on critical issues.
I wondered if Obama had more experience, particularly in handling foreign affairs, or if Romney would work more energetically to jump start the economy.
I went back and forth for months.
I finally made my selection in September, and have stuck with it ever since. I feel comfortable with my choice. That hasn’t always been the case in presidential elections.
The 2012 presidential race feels different — unique. I felt the same excitement and energy in 2008, when the nation seemed on the verge of electing its first African American president, casting aside centuries-old prejudices.
That issue seems gone now, and in it’s place, an almost manic dialogue about how large government should be.
Is it too bloated now, and encroaching dangerously into all our lives? Or do we need the kind of social safety net — and perhaps should expand it even more — to carry us through this persistent downturn? For months I’ve listened to friends, both conservative and liberal, carry on this debate. Passions are extremely heated this year — more so than in 2008, I think.
Then we have Florida …. one of the few genuine toss up states. The latest poll has Obama with 47 percent, Romney with 48.9 percent — still close, but perhaps a tiny Romney edge. Living in a swing state is a political junkee’s dream — and a nightmare for everyone else who hates those robocalls, calls for political polls at dinner time, and constant barrage of political commercials on television. Those don’t thrill me, either.
But I do know one thing: I have never in my life had so many people plead with me to be certain, above all else, that I get out and vote. Every vote will count this year is what I hear over and over again, in a presidential race considered too close to call, and perhaps likely to become one of the closest in our nation’s history.
And that is why I voted early. I wouldn’t miss this one for the world.
For a listing of locations and hours for early voting, visit the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office website at http://www.ocfelections.com/earlyvotingsites.aspx.
On Election Day, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Visit the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office website at http://www.ocfelections.com to find your specific polling place.
Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.