"That's it." I told myself when I finally got up from my seat to submit that delicate piece of paper, running its written contents in my head. Minutes later I emerged into the sunlight with a purple smudge on my right thumb and indelible ink on my right index finger – two telltale signs that I have just perfected my duty as a citizen of this country.
As a classmate put it in her blog, "I was happy. I voted." And perhaps rightly so, especially when you're one giddy first-time voter who has just turned 18 within the last three years, and who hasn't had the previous excitement of seeing his/her name posted on the door of some precinct, foolproof evidence laid out for the whole world to know that you have finally acquired the power to choose the leaders of the land.
The experience was surreal. And strangely real, too. Seated in a secluded spot far from the prying eyes and stretched necks of those who strained through the window panes for a glimpse of democracy (or what comes close to it), since voting is what makes a democracy after all, you suddenly find yourself an unlikely judge shut off from the outside world for a few private minutes by the mere shadow of a secrecy folder, time seemingly at a standstill as you finalize the list you have been attempting to assemble over the course of weeks or months, resolving an internal crisis on whether to fill up that last empty space with some lucky candidate's name or cross it out in haste (and disgust) altogether, making sure you had done yourself justice in writing down what you stood for and believed in.
Because that is what voting is about: standing up for your beliefs. It’s the ultimate hidden power every true-blue citizen wields, ready to be dished out at the call of civic duty. It is also a great equalizer – former presidents getting no more than the same one vote as the poorest of the poor. And not just any “voting” will do – it has to be wise voting, informed voting; the freedom of choice coexisting with the responsibility of knowledge.
Such has been the clamor of all who, in one way or another, have been seeking out every possible means for a holistic picture of each candidate. A common ground is almost always shared in the lack of information, practically leading to a less-than-informed, if not haphazard, choice. People resort to racist and/or religious biases, forgetting the more essential platforms and track records. This may partly explain the observed low turnout of voters, who, dismayed and tired of voting for nothing, have somehow made it their mission to keep some precincts relatively uninhabited. My dad, who is in Manila for health reasons, wasn’t able to exercise his right. But it is the least of his concerns. It’s just one vote, anyway. Many people I know too, who have either failed to register or who simply considered it a waste of time and energy to troop to their assigned precinct, have preferred to do other things more worthwhile. It’s just one vote, anyway.
One single, tiny, utterly insignificant vote?
And we go back once more to the story that I believe has been around since the time elections were invented. A lot of historical fallacies have been circulating in the web regarding the astounding power of a single vote, like how some states allegedly became part of the US by virtue of one vote, or how a major political figure was removed or put into power by that same single vote. Though I don't exactly commend these sites for their sheer failure to verify their sources, the message they bring across is loud and clear: Never underestimate the power of your vote. It IS enough. And it IS important. It counts. Assuming you don't become the unwitting victim of some nameless, faceless shenanigan, that is.
I am reminded of the time I registered as a first-time voter in the Comelec last December. The miniature office was already bursting at the seams with the throng of youths shoving and elbowing their way through the narrow gate, prompting a cacophony of mixed yells, cries and shouts of anger, desperation, frustration – sometimes all at once. It didn’t help that the guards deployed to maintain order were in a brazen fit themselves, hurling their own tirade of threats and intimidating anyone who got too stubborn-headed.
But again, the message was clear: The youth are there. And they sincerely WANT to vote. To think people have been too keen to say that the youth are slowly becoming apathetic to the plight of this country. Nevertheless, the situation was so dismal that it merited the attention of no less than the city mayor, who was himself already reeling from the outpouring of complaints from concerned citizens. This would have to be a stern warning to the Comelec to straighten up their act, or they won't be seeing much of new voters in the coming years if the nasty trend continues.
And what of the fancy anomalies digging right into the electoral process itself? One disheartened columnist in a major daily chided the sanctimonious show of glib candidates strutting their showbiz-styled stuff on TV, saying the polls have become a mere competition for those who hold the clout and the means for an assured victory. Sadly, there indeed lies some truth to this statement. Sometime last week, my mom casually asked one of our regular customers in jest, "Any bills yet?" which I initially perceived to be the profitability of business with the upcoming elections. Imagine my shock and great surprise when I found out that she actually referred to the sordid process of vote-buying, and talking about it as if it were the most natural thing in the world!
Why not, I half-concluded after some minutes of self-realization. It's time to wake up to the present, and if you're one of those who find themselves assailed with a daily dose of bad news, sculpted across the front page, what's not to expect? The arithmetic of dagdag-bawas, the superb flying acts, the dead returning from their graves – these will come in their own time, perhaps not with our own eyes, perhaps not with our own ears, perhaps not with anybody else's – but they're there, definitely.
So maybe with that one single vote I cast, I may not make a difference. Well, I suppose not yet – the latest news on TV show the members of the leading pack ahead by a few thousand votes over their closest rivals. Or perhaps, fully unaware of it, I turned out to be that unwitting victim whose ballot has fallen prey to deceitful hands. A thousand possibilities exist, and to accurately predict the fate of my one true ballot would be to say that it hovers somewhere between being safe inside a bonafide Comelec box and being left floating (perhaps already dog-eaten) in the murky waters of an underground estero. But the fact that I was able to vote with a clean conscience is enough to keep me sleeping soundly tonight. My first ballot was cast, and proud to say I cast it with my dignity intact.