Can people with Down syndrome vote?
That has got to be the worst question I’ve asked since Sophie was born. The second worst: When Sophie was three months old — and about to have open heart surgery — I asked the geneticist whether people with Down syndrome ever have curly hair. (He gave me a dirty look and said no. In any case, I have since noticed some people with DS who DO have curly hair, although it’s true that Ray, Annabelle and I have wavy/curly hair and Sophie’s is the stick-straight stuff I’ve always dreamed of for myself.)
She was in her PJs tonight, about to brush teeth, when I stopped her to ask, “Who do you want to be president?” We had been practicing with Annabelle, earlier in the evening. As I said to Ray this morning, I really don’t care about any other choice on the ballot — it’s a free country, as they say — but I can’t live in the same house with someone who votes for John McCain. Total dealbreaker.
Instead of scoffing, Ray nodded solemnly and agreed that familiarity does indeed breed contempt. (I’ve covered McCain for a long time: www.phoenixnewtimes.com/mccain, in case you really want to read even more about the guy. Which I doubt. I know I don’t.)
Annabelle, Sophie and I were giggling over how funny “Obama” sounds and I remembered that I forgot to order “My Mama’s For Obama” tee shirts. As a journalist I’m technically not supposed to share my affiliation, but screw it, I don’t pretend to be unbiased. I already have a good luck charm around my neck that says Obama; I’ll have to turn it around tomorrow night, when I’m covering the McCain rally in Phoenix. (Just color commentary — and to balance things, I’ll be there with our paper’s arch-conservative.)
Anyhow, I asked Sophie who she wants to be president and she yelled, “ABBIE!”
Which is pretty much what she yells in response to most any question, these days. She’s obsessed with our 13 year old pal. It was a completely appropriate response for a 5 year old, with Down syndrome or not, which is why I don’t know understand why the question suddenly popped into my head.
“Will Sophie be able to vote?”
As a one-time political reporter and current citizen of the world, I should know the basics of the Voting Rights Act, not to mention the Constitution, but shoot me — I don’t. Or I did and forgot. In any case, I had to ask Ray.
He smirked. “There’s no IQ test to qualify to vote!”
“Are you sure?”
But of course I had to Google. It took a while to find the answer, amidst all that really smart talk (not) about who’s more retarded — McCain or Obama, Republicans or Democrats, and don’t get me started on the commentary about Sarah Palin.
Finally, I found it. As always, Ray was right. No, there’s no qualification. You just have to be a U.S. citizen and of age. But I wonder how hard that would stick, if challenged. Many states have specifics written into the statutes that stipulate that people with developmental disabilities must be allowed to vote. There’s got to be a reason.
Oh, and by the way, Arizona has no such stipulation. Neither does Alaska.
I sat and thought hard about it. What do I really think? Should anyone, regardless of mental capacity, be allowed to vote? I pushed all the political jokes out of my head and forced myself to be honest. And my honest answer is that I don’t know. I really don’t.
If I had to guess today, I’d say that Sophie is darn well on her way to knowing just what’s up, by the time she’s 18 if not before.
But can I imagine (indeed, have I encountered) adults who are clearly not capable of discerning between the two people at the top of the ticket, let alone below? Yeah. I can.
And yet they clearly deserve the right to vote, if only because of the slippery-slope factor. The potential ramifications, taken to the nth degree, are too horrible to imagine.
Hey, I don’t know a soul who understands everything on that ballot I’ll face tomorrow, myself included. (OK, maybe Ray. Probably Ray.) Two of my smartest friends begged me for pointers, which I in turn had to beg for from my father — then temper with a big grain of the-guy’s-a-public-utility-exec salt.
In any case, Sophie’s already the best judge of character I know. And that’s what I’m basing my vote on tomorrow. Aren’t you?