My future high school had a distinctive smell.
I was very young at the time, years away from fighting through its crowded hallways, when my mother dragged me into the dank school. It was her polling place, and I’d get a whiff of what I imagined democracy to be a couple of times every even-numbered year.
The voting booths came out of the 1950s. You stepped inside, closed the curtain, and manipulated a series of levers that might as well have been in the cockpit of an airplane. Representative democracy seemingly required a degree if you were to play an active role.
Fast-forward several years, and I’m performing the intricate maneuvers required to get to my next class. Newly 16 years old, my friends and I spent a Saturday driving to local political party headquarters. We collected brochures and paraphernalia for the various candidates.
We couldn’t even vote, but we breathed politics. We cemented our stance on issues with no clear foundation or reason. We knew better than everyone.
A few years later I had my first chance to vote in a presidential election, and I threw away my shot. No one told me I could have applied for an absentee ballot, that I didn’t need to drive three hours to my hometown just to cast a ballot.
I drove nowhere. I did no research about absentee ballots. My cemented foundation of knowledge was full of cracks, and I didn’t even know it.
I wised up, just a bit, once out of college. I’d buy the Sunday paper before each election and read through the details of each candidate. On election day I’d walk the quarter mile to my polling place, informed, knowing I was making the right choices.
Even if I did have to hold my nose for some