Today is one of my proudest days as a case manager, as I’ve been able to assist several of my clients in voting today. Sitting down with them, helping them find their local polling place, driving to the center, walking them through the ballot and the voting machines, and then watching them vote has been amazing. I wanted to share a conversation I had today with (as we’ll call him) “Chris”. He’s grown up well-within poverty his entire life in the roughest neighborhoods of Philadelphia. He’s been in the mental health system since he was very young, with a mind full of voices and confusion.
We had just walked into the community center where his voting center was. As we walked up the steps, Chris enthusiastically said, “I’m going to vote for Barack Obama!”
“Okay,” I responded. “Let’s look at this example ballot on the wall. I’ll show you what’s on the ballot and how to vote.”
I proceeded to walk Chris through the complicatedly-phrased Philly ballot initiatives. After his first response for each question, I’d ask him why he felt that way, and we’d work through the logic of each initiative and his answer. He ended up choosing some different answers than I did earlier today (and he actually made me realize I made the wrong choices on half of the initiatives). We then turned to the candidates.
“Okay, Chris, so here’s Barack Obama on the ballot. There are also other people being voted on today also–”
“Yes, some of them are Republicans, but there are some other Democrats on the ballot as–”
“I want to vote for the Republicans.”
“Really? You do?”
“So you want to vote for Mitt Romney for President, then?”
“Yeah, yeah. I want to vote for the Republicans.”
“Chris, you were saying earlier that you wanted to vote for Obama. Obama is a Democrat.”
“Oh…Well, I guess I thought he was a Republican.”
“So what’s more important to you? Voting for Obama or voting for the Republ–”
“Because I like Republicans.”
I said okay and showed him the one button you can easily (unfortunately) press to automatically vote for one party all the way down the ticket. I helped him sign-in and he went into the booth. After he walked out, I looked and he hadn’t completed the ballot initiatives I reminded him. He went back in and when he came out, I looked and he had cast completely different votes on the local ballot initiatives. But, sure enough, his candidate voting was lit up all the way down on the Republican side.
On the drive home, I had the weird thought that Chris had “canceled out” some of my local votes with his votes. But then I remembered that this is not how it works. I wondered if a flute “cancels out” the oboe or the violin. I wondered if the tenors “canceled out” the sopranos. No, he didn’t cancel my vote out. He added harmony to this beautiful symphony that representative republics can be. We may not know the final piece, or even what key we’re in, but we’ve at least been given the tools that we do could sing beautifully in this world.
As I dropped Chris off at his temporary mental health group home, I called for him out of the car.
“Hey Chris, why do you like Republicans?”
“Because they’re the party that’s all about helping the poor people.”
Looking at his toothy grin and seeing him enjoying this particular moment of freedom from the voices raging in his mind and feeling the pride of having cast his vote, I merely smiled back and nodded, not finding it in myself the desire to say or feel anything but pride.