Lexington, Virginia • November 3, 2008
I’m 54, a self-confessed political junkie, and a first-time voter.
I’ve never voted in any election, local or national, in my life, and now I’ll be doing so for the first time on Tuesday as a new U.S. citizen. In fact, it was my desire to vote that prompted me to go through the two-year process of becoming a citizen.
Back in my original country of England, I always viewed politics as boring and a bit sleazy. Sometimes it was downright embarrassing, such as the cringe-worthy schoolboy antics of our politicians during “Prime Minister’s Question Time” on the BBC. Then there were the equal-time-for-all “Political Party Broadcasts” on TV during a general election, which were a national joke. When they aired you could almost hear the clicks as millions of TVs around the country were turned off and there was a mass exodus to the pubs. Ross Perot with his pie charts was more compelling.
The political scandals that would rear their heads from time to time and turn into a media feeding frenzy were the only time I really noticed politics. So I never bothered to vote – which I now admit with some shame.
It took moving to the U.S. with my American husband to spark my interest in politics. At first, it was the politicians themselves, with their larger-than-life personalities, that fascinated me. Here was an entirely different, more glamorous breed than the English version, I thought, as I sat up and paid attention. Then I decided that maybe I should try and understand the U.S. political system, which was so different to that in England. (I confess it took me a while to realize that the Republicans and the GOP were the same party.)
So for the last 14 years I have followed the triumphs and travails of U.S. politics, learned about the Supreme Court, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and enjoyed vigorous political debates with anyone who would take me on. I have, in short, become a political junkie. The irony that I had gone from a country where I could vote but never had the interest, to a country where I wanted to vote but couldn’t, was not lost on me.
Every four years I would grumble about not being able to vote, but I never did anything about it. It was too time-consuming, not to mention costly. Then came the news two years ago that the cost of citizenship would soon double. Time for action, I said to myself, admitting that my desire to vote had become overwhelming.
I traveled to Washington, D.C., for interviews and again, separately, for finger printing, and finally received my invitation to become a U.S. citizen. As I stood and took the oath of allegiance this summer, my main thought was that, finally, I would be able to vote, and in a year of such importance as well. My voice would be heard, albeit among millions of other potential voters.
So on Tuesday, I will wait in line and for the first time cast my vote and feel like a real U.S. citizen. Will I have a sense of anti-climax? Will the act of pulling a lever, or whatever it is you do in Virginia, be less than the momentous event I picture in my mind? Maybe, but at least I finally took action. I will be there.
Sarah Tschiggfrie is News Director at Washington and Lee University.