Monday, November 5, 2012

Our Right to Vote

This won't be a political post, that will come tomorrow. This is a post about voting rights and voting laws. Now I'm originally from Maine. It's generally a rather liberal state more often than not, especially in terms of social programs. I am now living in Alabama (hopefully this was obvious by the name of the blog) and from what I have gathered since moving down here two years ago, Alabama considers itself to be a very conservative state. There have been a few stark differences between Alabama and Maine in terms of voting laws that have seriously concerned me. I am no voting laws expert, but these are just my observations. I am not going to compare voting laws in every state, just the two I have had personal experience with.

Now in Maine, you can register to vote at the polling place on Election day with no issues and no hassle. Photo ID and proof of residence to register to vote, but no ID is required to actually vote. Whenever I voted, everyone was quite nice and helpful. I never felt rushed or pressure in any way. The rules aren't necessarily looser in Maine, they are just designed to help people vote. You can find all of Maine's voting laws here. There is one in particular that stood out to me. According to the State of Maine, "I may not be harassed when voting or be pressured about how to vote.  21-A MRSA §§672 and 682". I most certainly feel that this is a vital component of voting laws and of Democracy as a whole. There is nothing more important than access to voting in order to support a Democracy. You cannot expect a Democracy to survive as such if any segment, no matter how small or large, is disenfranchised form voting. I feel that Maine does a good job in attempting to assist voters in accessing their polling places and any and all voter applicable voter information.

I have found Alabama to be very different, however. It seems that large segments of the population are disenfranchised, though that may just be my perception. I don't know how wide spread the polling locations are; I'm hoping there aren't massive lines to vote tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes after I vote. The biggest issue I have I discovered while reading through the Alabama Voter Guide for 2012, available here. Everyone reads and makes decisions at their own pace, some quite fast, like myself, and some quite slow, for a whole variety of reasons. In Alabama, there is a time limit on how long a person can be in a voting booth or at a voting machine. The sample ballot for the county I am in is two pages long. I can read that in much less than a minute, but someone with dyslexia or poor vision may have a great deal of trouble reading the ballot in a short period of time, let alone make decisions and enter their decision, either on a paper ballot or the voting machine. In Alabama, voters are only alloted a total of five (5) minutes in a voting booth to make and enter their decisions. If you don't believe me, look at the section called "Time in the Booth" on page 9 of the Alabama Voter Guide for 2012. I cannot imagine anyone being able to make an informed decision on something of this magnitude in five minutes, especially if they haven't had the chance to look up the ballot ahead of time, which is absolutely plausible if someone works two jobs, which is very common down here. I can not imagine being rushed out of the voting booth in five minutes and I read incredibly fast. I have no idea if this is constitutional, but I hardly think that it's fair. I think it's just another way to disenfranchise voters, especially the uneducated and poorly literate. Everyone needs to be able to vote, regardless of their abilities.

So this is my question, if someone is in a voting booth or at a voting machine and they are clearly engaged in the act of voting, is it acceptable to put a time limit on a right given to us by the Constitution of these United States?? Can you, in good conscience, tell someone they only have five minutes or twenty five minutes to make a decision that will impact the future of this great country?? Please provide your answer in a comment with any additional opinions. I really want to see how other people view this. And do me a huge favor... No matter your preferences, your beliefs, your politics, VOTE. It is as much your right as your responsibility. This country was founded on Democracy, on the voice of the people. If we don't exercise our voice, then what is the point of having one?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Simple Pleasures, or The Adorable Birds on my Porch

There are many little things in life that make us smile. I was reminded today of the simple joy of bird watching. We've got a little porch on the back of our apartment. Shortly after we moved in, we started putting bird seed out on the railing, and now we have a bird feeder. We have a whole variety of adorable birds who come visit. We've spent a year and a half cultivating a "friendship" with these little birdies and they do often come visit.

We have nearly a dozen Chickadees who come visit. They're Carolina Chickadees, so they're smaller than the northern Chickadees. They dart to and fro, almost faster than the eye can see. Sometimes they dart a little faster than their eyes can see and occasionally run into tree branches or my sliding glass door. They always fly away unharmed. They are so much fun to watch. They swoop into the bird feeder, grab a seed (usually the biggest one they can find quickly), and dart off to the nearest tree branch (hardly more than a twig) to eat the seed unbothered. They chatter at each other and avoid all of the larger birds, except the mourning doves. They have a tendency to perch in odd positions and will literally queue up along the chain holding the bird feeder to wait their turn at the perch. It's really, really cute.

Very similar to the Chickadees are the nuthatches. We have many brown-headed nuthatches and a couple of pygmy nuthatches, though that may be the same one who visits over and over again. I think the brown-headed nuthatches are my favorite. They look a little like chipmunks and act a little like them, too. They are jumpy and easily startled. They are also rather acrobatic, hanging from the bird feeder or the railing at very strange angles, even upside down. Like the Chickadees, they too prefer the largest seeds, which are usually the sunflower seeds. They do tend to quarrel a little more than the Chickadees, but require much less space to calm down. I love seeing the little brown headed nuthatch walk around on the folding chairs we have on the porch; they go upside down and sideways and backwards. It's really funny. I don't see very much of the pygmy nuthatch, though that may just be because it is hard to distinguish it from the brown headed nuthatches. When I can tell them apart, the pygmy nuthatch is very shy.

Next among our regulars are the Northern Cardinals. The males are a little larger and much brighter than the females. The males are a rosy red color and the females are mostly brown with a faint reddish hue. They are much larger than the Chickadees and the nuthatches, which allows them to be possessive of the bird feeder when they are present. The Northern Cardinals mate for life, so we have several mated pairs who come to visit. Last spring we got to see them feed their young. It was really cute.

We also occasionally have gold finches and house finches, though I think they are migratory since we don't see them very often. They grab what they can and disappear. We also have a single woodpecker who hangs around on the trees behind the apartment. She only comes up to the porch when there is suet out, and since it's getting colder, we've put the suet out so they birds can fatten up.

Last but not least, we have mourning doves. I thought we only had four mourning doves, but apparently only four come up on the porch. The seed has attracted nearly a dozen mourning doves who wander around on the ground below the porch, eating the seed that the nuthatches through away. They are the hubby's favorite bird, but I think they are a little less intelligent than the other birds we have visiting. They are rather adorable though, with their clumsiness and their head bobbing.

These birdies are my simple pleasure down here. When I feel helpless or hopeless, I look out and watch these little creatures go about their day, eating seed and interacting with each other like there isn't another care in the world. It isn't the end of the world to them if I don't have a job or the apartment is messy. And as hard as it is to remember sometimes, this will all work out for the best. Watching the birds is my escape, however brief, from the frustrations of everyday life. We must all remember to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, whatever they may be. So I will go on laughing at the antics of my little birdies and enjoying the subtle humor of Gene Roddenberry, and, for a brief moment, forget my frustrations and cares, until the sound of my computer dying brings me back to this harsh reality.