California Primary elections were held on June 5th and I cast my first vote as a newly minted American citizen. I went full throttle in researching everything—registration requirements, candidates, voting centers, hours, and early voting. I watched videos understanding the concepts of the electronic voting.
I find whenever I pre-plan and look forward to something, things always happen and screw-up my plans. My first vote was so important to me that I didn’t want to take any chance, so I opted for early voting. Also, I wanted to get used to the electronic voting machines before the most important Federal elections.
I jotted down my preferred candidates on Post-Its, dressed up, and drove to the nearest early voting center. I expected the voting center to be all decked up in banners and flags, just like I had watched on the television. I looked around for long lines. Nothing. Not many people and no electronic voting machines.
I was a little disappointed. It seems long lines and electronic voting machines only happen on the actual election day, not for early voting. Nevertheless, I was thrilled. After all, I was getting my voice heard by voting.
It is not that I didn’t vote in India. I kind of did. Logically, it is either I voted or I didn’t. Right. But there was an in-between in India, where I sort-of voted.
I don’t know the voting requirements of my parents’ generation. I assume Indians showed their Ration Cards to cast their vote. In 1993, India came with a Voter ID Card system. And one day, during my undergrad summer vacation when I was at my parents’ home in New Delhi, my father handed me my Voter ID Card. It was like magic. It was a 3” x 5” black and white laminated card. Along with my address, it had my name, gender, date of birth, age, and father’s name.
It was the first thing which had my name and picture. My father kept it in his closet’s locker for safekeeping. That itself was another mess that I don’t want to delve into right now.
Over the year’s every time, there were national elections to elect the Prime Minister in India, I was not living in New Delhi. At that time there wasn’t (and still isn’t) any concept of absentee voting in Indian. But one year, I was in New Delhi during the national election. Even though it was a national holiday, I was working, as I was an architect trying to make my mark.
Around four that afternoon, I wrapped up my work and drove my Sunny scooter to the polling station near my parents’ home. There were no markings or directions indicating the whereabouts of the polling station. The road leading to my parents’ home was swarmed with people standing, chatting, shouting, and holding BJP banners. There was no beginning or ending to the human mass. I parked on the roadside and asked around. Someone pointed me to the middle of the crowd.
I elbowed my way until I reached a four-foot long table covered with a dirty white cloth. Two men in white shirts with some sort of Indian government official ID cards clipped to their breast pockets sat on folding chairs. One of them searched on his clipboard for my name. He informed me that I had had already cast my vote.
Of course, I went ballistic. He pointed to his list. In the row corresponding to my name, under the signature column, someone had signed it with their thumbprint. I explained that I was educated enough that I knew how to sing my name, that I would never sign my name with a thumbprint. But the official kept on pointing to his list and arguing back that it was the evidence that I had already voted.
Our argument attracted people to the table. One of them was my granduncle—my grandfather’s younger brother. He was a big deal as he was the local organizer for the BJP party. He shushed me, had a hushed conversation with the official, and said to me, “You want to vote . . . see this person has not voted . . . you vote under this name.”
I was too shocked to even reason with him. I declined his offer. I was not trying to sound self-righteous, as I had done enough shitty things in life. But I drew a line at breaking the law, even in corrupt India. As I drove back to my place, I realized that probably someone was casting my vote all those years.
Within years, I got another opportunity to vote in India’s national elections. It was a civilized experience. It had a line and my designated polling station was a primary school near my parents’ home. I showed my Voter ID card, an official marked my left index finger with one-inch long mark with indelible ink, I signed under my name and cast the paper ballot.
I found that voting, even in the state election in America was more satisfying than voting in the national elections in India. In India, I voted for a party, not the candidate. At times there was not a clear winner, so two or more parties formed a coalition and formed the government and selected a leader. I didn’t like that system. I felt that my vote, my voice was lost in the mathematics of politics. But then, it was difficult to hear my voice midst more than one billion Indians. Then, of course, I never knew if my vote actually mattered.
Now for past thirteen years, I waited to vote in America. I think I understand the American political system, courtesy House of Cards and Sunday morning political talk shows. In America, as an electorate, I am a part of the decision-making process. I am a factor if the local judge or sheriff gets re-elected. I can choose who represents me and who governs my country.
I have friends who never ever voted in any election in India. I know people who don’t bother to vote in American elections. I don’t understand them. I try hard not to judge them. It isn’t easy. Whether in India or America, our ancestors fought and shed blood so that I have the right to vote. It pains me especially when women don’t vote. How can anyone not want to have their voice heard? I just know that I am gearing and researching the candidates for the midterm elections.