My Journey to the Ballot: From First-Time Voter to Candidate

Introduction: Turning 18 and New Responsibilities

Having resolved to never be a smoker, I did not have a lot to look forward to when I reached the age of majority (the age at which one is considered an adult in the eyes of the law). When I turned 18, I would be able to enter into contracts, register for Selective Service, and vote in elections.

The only contract-related thing that happened when I reached this magic age was that the custodian was removed from my UTMA bank accounts. That did not really excite me since I already had the access I needed to manage my money.

Since I have a December birthday, I recall going to the post office in early January and filling out the card for Selective Service as is required by law for all adult males under 26. Though I love my country, the fact that there was the even the slightest possibility that I could be drafted into the military and have to literally fight for it definitely did not excite me.

What did excite me was that later that year, I would get the privilege to vote in both the Primary and General elections for the first time ever. Finally, I would have a say in what happened in government rather than just complaining about it! Even more exciting, it was a presidential election year so I would play a part in electing the leader of the free world!

My First Voting Experience

Fast forward to Tuesday, September 9, 2008, the date of the Minnesota State Primary Election,  I remember going to the Crystal Community Center to vote. Since it was my first time voting, I was required to register. As I recall, the voter registration process was simply a matter of providing my driver’s license to the election judge to validate that I was who I said I was, lived where I said I lived, and was eligible to vote.

After registering, I was handed the ballot which reminded me of the Scantron sheets I had often used throughout the years in school for multiple choice tests. As a naturally good test-taker, I thought I was set to change the world with my vote. To my disappointment, when I received the ballot, the office of president was not even listed on the ballot. My dismay further increased when I realized I had to vote along party lines on the first ballot page. That should have been simple enough but I quickly realized I did not recognize any of the names on the ballot with the exceptions of Norm Coleman, Al Franken, and Renae Bowman (the current mayor of Crystal at the time, which I only knew because of the word “incumbent” by her name).

Ultimately, I don’t recall who I voted for, but it was clear that I was woefully underprepared for this particular rite of passage. I wasn’t totally unprepared though. I had received the required civics education in school so knew a little bit about the type of government, its three branches, and the political spectrum and parties. I had also been told by my mother and my aunt growing up that our family always votes Democrat because “they are for the farmers”. That advice made sense coming from individuals who spent their childhood and early adult years on a farm. My mother also shared with me her personal strategy of voting for an incumbent if you are happy with the way things have gone during their time in office or voting against an incumbent if you are unhappy with the way things have gone. In addition, she threw in the tried-and-true bonus tip that I could always write in Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, or another fictional character if I wasn’t pleased with any of the available options.

I knew that I could and would do better in future elections. A few months later when I was able to vote in the General Election, I do recall who I voted for and was pleased to find that the office of president was on the ballot. Finally, I was able to make an impact with my vote! Unfortunately, when I shared who I selected for president, my future mother-in-law informed me with a note of disappointment in her voice that my vote was a throwaway vote as I had chosen a third-party candidate.

From Voter to Candidate

It is a somewhat surreal predicament I find myself in at the present moment. For the second time in my life, I am on the ballot as a candidate for Brooklyn Center City Council; I will be one of the selections from which voters will choose. How will they decide if I am the right candidate?

Looking back on those elections, I probably would have made different choices knowing what I know now. I have learned a lot in the subsequent years and have had over a decade to become a more informed voter. Despite all the mistakes I made in my early years as a voter, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I did do one thing right: I voted.

Encouragement for Future Voters

In the coming days, I will be sharing information and strategies I have employed that have given me a degree of confidence in the voting process that I did not have as a young adult. I hope that you will benefit from this material and that you will be more informed than you were before. In the meantime, I encourage you to commit to vote in the upcoming Primary and General elections. If you’ve been a sideline spectator in the democratic process up until now, get involved. If you already are involved, commit to being more informed and informing those around you.

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