Our Civic Duty

We’ve officially lived in Valencia for 2 years. Our anniversary was this week. And to celebrate we did our civic duty back home and submitted our ballots as Overseas Voters in King County Washington – our state and county of residence.

In the US, unlike places like Ireland or the UK, Americans can vote while residing overseas. It can be because you’re in the military or the spouse of someone who has taken you on an adventure of a lifetime and you’re living on a base in some far-flung region of the world. But you can also vote as an expat. So I get to weigh in on issues that effect my fellow residents of King County, Washington State, or the country as a whole. And if there is an election? Well, we log in, print our ballots, tick our boxes, sign the paper ballot and send it back via email.

Ever since the first election I voted in – the presidential election of 1984 – I have been excited about voting and have done it in every state I’ve lived in ever since. That first time, going up to my old elementary school, and old brick school house (long since torn down) that was built in 1920. The gym smelled like an old church and I had to queue up at the table where an elderly lady had me put my signature next to my name, and then head to the booth and pull the curtain. I felt I had arrived.

For most of my childhood, we had been taken to that gym when my parents would vote. Back then children were allowed in with their parents. They don’t allow that anymore – not sure why since I’m pretty sure an 8 year old or a toddler wouldn’t have much influence on their parent’s vote – but back then my mom could load us all in the Town and Country station wagon with the fake wood paneling on the side and she could wrangle 4 children into the voting area. There were free cookies, after all.

But it gave me a sense of the importance of voting and that a citizen of a country should never take it for granted. It was our right, as well as our duty, because not everyone in the world had it. And so, when we moved to Valencia I made sure we registered as Overseas Voters and we’ve been able to fulfill our obligation ever since.

I fear for my country and conversations here, among Americans, often include whispers of what is happening back home. People are often afraid to express their opinions for fear of offending someone else. But I think most American’s who move overseas on a more permanent basis are often leaning a similar direction politically. But I’ve always felt that I would have no right to complain about something happening in my community if I didn’t take the time to vote. And doing it from Valencia today took no more time than going to the mailbox, getting my ballot, voting and sealing the envelope, then taking it back outside. Certainly, before mail-in ballots, taking 4 kids down to the polling place took a lot more effort.

Living in Spain, it’s made me appreciate voting even more. I now live in a country where I have no voice. No say in whether the government leans my direction. Whether the social safety net stays protected. If those who lead this country will take it to war or fight for peace. There have been a few elections since we’ve been here. National and local. And while I try to educate myself on the issues and understand as much as I can, I don’t have the history nor the expertise to weigh in with any credibility.

But today, from 8,000 miles away, we weighed in on the future of our own country. And it felt pretty good. Before I did it, I cleaned the entire house, got all our documentation for the upcoming fiscal season prepared, took out the trash. Like our house needed to be clean without distractions – it’s just that important. Then I printed my ballot and I put down in writing what I feel in my heart. I have hope for my country. And voting, even for a moment, makes me feel like it might just realize a brighter future than it currently enjoys. And I did my part small to help make that happen.