Wheeler: Voting a beautiful thing, even if the choices aren’t perfect

Burgetta Eplin Wheeler

Filling out personal information on my Facebook page a few years ago, I stared at the “Political Views” space for quite a while, trying to pull down words that would properly convey an outlook that defies common categories.

“Right of nearly everyone I work with, left of nearly all family members” is what I finally came up with.

Let’s see. At 18, I registered as a Democrat because that’s the only flavor they sold in West Virginia at the time. Republicans were as mythical as folks of other colors.

By the 1988 election, I had moved to North Carolina. I still laugh every time I remember that I was the only person in my entire Johnston County precinct who voted in the primary for the bow-tied Paul Simon.

When I moved to Wake County, I changed my registration to unaffiliated, though I’m pretty sure there was a stretch in there when my card said Republican. Clearly, my party loyalty wins no prizes.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the Nolan chart survey I took this week put me firmly inside the centrist category. (Find it at

As such, on Tuesday I will go to vote in my eighth presidential election empty of any eagerness to mark a particular name on my ballot.

As is the case with many Americans, I’ve never found a candidate who matched the majority of my leanings, forcing me to concentrate on one or two issues that are important to me and holding my nose on the rest.

Maybe that’s why so many of us are unaffiliated. Fed up. Disillusioned. Or just happily and, compared with the screechers on the extremes, somewhat silently sitting in the middle.

Almost 1.7 million of North Carolina’s 6.5 million voters are unaffiliated; in Wake and Mecklenburg counties, there are more unaffiliated voters than Republicans.

Jake Umstead, a senior at Broughton High School, is a new unaffiliated voter, though both of his parents are registered Democrats.

“I don’t really like either presidential candidate,” Umstead said, noting that he’ll be voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. “I’ve got a lot of different viewpoints that neither party fulfills. Some are more important than others, so that keeps me from planting a flag on either side.”

Jordan Worthen, another Broughton senior, also registered as unaffiliated.

“My parents actually have opposite ideas of what they think should be going on in this election, so it’s a little funny to listen to them speak to it, but they never forced a certain view on me,” she said. “I registered as unaffiliated so I will be able to see both sides and learn.”

I talked to several Broughton seniors this week, hoping their excitement at being first-time voters would wash away my weariness over the whole process and revive the wonder that our democracy in action should inspire.

It can be tempting sometimes just to skip that voting thing as you find yourself getting more cynical about motives and money and less sure that party-loyal politicians can work toward anything called progress.

In fact, 30 percent of North Carolina’s registered voters stayed home in the hotly contested 2008 general election.

“What I’d have to say to people old enough to vote and don’t is that people fought for the right, and it’s kind of a disrespect not to do it,” Umstead said. “It’s not just a right. It’s a civic duty as well.”

Andrew Kot, who turned 18 on Monday, hopes to go to a military academy next year. His dad went to the Naval Academy; his brother is at the Air Force Academy.

“Voting is the most important civic obligation I could use,” Kot said. “That’s the only power I have. That’s definitely why I’m voting.”

Almost 500,000 more North Carolinians have registered to vote this year. There were about 6 million registered Tar Heels on Jan. 7; on Saturday, that number was up to 6,517,150.

These young voters are leading the way. Participation in early voting this year is up 33 percent over 2008 as a whole but has increased almost 40 percent among those ages 18 to 24.

Mary Campbell Rouse, another Broughton senior, said her experience has been that her under-18 friends are disappointed that they can’t vote.

“In AP U.S. Gov., we studied the voting patterns about who’s the most apathetic voters, and it’s people my age,” Rouse said. “But it seems like most of my peers are either excited about voting or wish they had the opportunity to vote. It’s so weird to think some people think it doesn’t matter.”

Even with all of the ugliness, democracy is a beautiful thing, as these new adults know. On Tuesday, we may be divided, but let’s wake up Wednesday united as Americans.

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