Sunday, March 02, 2008


Revenge of the Democracy Geek

“Where do you register to vote?” the voice on the other end of the phone asked.

It was one of my best and oldest friends, asking a question which many a vicenarian asks when they’re finally old enough to cast a ballot and a year divisible by the number four has rolled around.

These days, I spend quite a bit of time teaching Asian students important things about the English language. They are important tidbits, such as the difference between the phrases “work hard” and “work hardly,” and words like “lice” and “rice” (the main difference being that it’s bad to have one of these things growing in your hair, and it’s really, really bad to have the other thing growing in your hair).

But, every couple of years an election rolls around in my home country and I end up looking back on the days before I came to Korea, when the only people I had to teach were my less politically-astute friends and acquaintances.

This particular friend was calling me because a) I worked at the local newspaper and had easy access to information such as this and also because b) I was what some people refer to as a "big democracy geek" who had known such information for years, even when I cleaned out grease vats on a part-time basis at fast food restaurants in high school.

Now, to be a democracy geek of any size, one needs to vote, and not just every four years. DGs, if you will, should also vote in midterm elections, primaries, and those city or town-wide contests where candidates attempt to use issues like the catching of stray dogs to incite 5 percent of the town or city’s population into frothing partisan mobs.

Big Democracy Geeks, or BDGs, if you will (or if you won’t, for that matter) go a step further. We actually spend a considerable amount of time and a considerable amount of brainpower considering who we should vote for. We carefully analyze the pluses and minuses of the candidates who are on the ballots before choosing who is most qualified to manage the country/state/city/half-dozen voluptuous blondes who staff that particular congressional office.

There are downsides to the meticulous approach that BDGs take to governmental affairs, of course. Colleagues are perplexed as to why you don’t have much to say about Monday Night Football, friends from high school and college don’t understand why you can’t get into certain TV programs, parents wonder if you’re ever going to start dating, etc.

Perhaps the greatest disadvantage, at least in recent years, is that carefully examining the positions and background of the different candidates in order to determine is best qualified for office has come to feel a bit like carefully examining the contents of mausoleums to see who has the best chance to become Miss Universe.

However, there are certain advantages to being the one who will take the time to compare the cadavers … I mean candidates. Once BDGs have proven their political well-versedness, their peers look to them for insight on that subject.

For example, I was not quite finished with my undergraduate degree in the fall of 2002 when three people, including one of my English professors, asked me which Tennessee gubernatorial candidate vote for.

Even when I worked for newspapers, I was regularly called upon by co-workers to explain things, such as, why the Republicans were trying to ban filibusters or why there was malignant-looking Democrat speaking at the Republican National Convention.

These are the moments BDGs live for: we know our peers and co-workers won’t ever ask us for first-date ideas, how many mega-pixels their digital camera should have or why certain red lights are appearing above their dashboards.

However, we can be counted upon for knowledge about certain things, such as where to vote, which is why my friend (remember him, the one I mentioned several paragraphs and handful of tangents ago?) called me at work.

This BDG told his friend that he could register to vote at the office of our county’s election administrator. What this BDG didn’t tell him is that, in most cases, you need to register to vote at least than 30 days before Election Day in order for your vote to be counted.

I also didn’t tell him that it was already Election Day, because 1) I was sure that he already knew the date, if not it’s full significance, and 2) I thought that for him to attempt voter registration on the day the actual voting was supposed to take place would be a valuable lesson for him and a humorous mental picture for myself.

As the ancient proverb says, “Teach a man how to vote, and he will remember how to do so on that day. Embarrass a man thoroughly when he tries to vote, and he will remember how to do so for a lifetime, provided he ever tries again.”

Another ancient proverb says: “Always be nice to Big Democracy Geeks.”

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