Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Today is primary election day in my home state of West Virginia.

I've been interested in government since childhood, when my grandmother went to Washington and brought back some publications from our congressman's office. In ninth grade, my civics teacher took some of his top students to attend the governor's inauguration ceremony in the capital. I majored in Political Science at the University of Charleston, and then went on to WVU to get both a law degree and a master's in public administration. I worked for the federal government for thirty years before retiring nearly one year ago. I've always believed it was our civic duty to support our government.

In addition, I experienced democracy first-hand when I put my name on the ballot during four different elections. I was proud to be elected to the non-partisan Wood County Board of Education, especially after trudging through countless neighborhoods going door-to-door (the old-fashioned way) explaining my positions and seeking support.

Following my terms on the school board, I undertook another part-time job as an adjunct faculty member at WVU-Parkersburg, teaching American Government and Constitutional Law. I tried to impress on my students the importance of participating in our democracy. I also tried to stress the need for bipartisanship rather than polarization.

So it probably isn't surprising that a political junkie like me never missed voting in an election throughout my adult years. Even when I was a student in Charleston or Morgantown, I always filled out my absentee ballot and mailed it back. When I lived in various locations around the Washington, DC area, I would make a point to find my way to an unfamiliar local school and cast my ballot.

However, my unbroken streak of voting in every election since 1976 ended today. Oh sure, I could have made arrangements to have an absentee ballot sent to me so that I could have participated from thousands of miles away during my Peace Corps service. I plan on doing that for the general election this fall.

But I just couldn't get excited about the choices that I was facing in American presidential politics as well as in state and local races. I'm not advocating for others to avoid voting, but given my unusual circumstances I decided to end my streak. In some respects, I am purposely breaking my record as a small personal protest over how politics has devolved back home. The hyper-partisanship, impact of big money, lack of compromise, and willingness to make inaccurate statements for political gain are not how I think things are supposed to work. It makes me sad for the future of my state and of my country.

Even though the process is complicated, I will be sure to vote in the fall, because I want to be able to preserve my right to complain when things inevitably go wrong, regardless of who wins the election. But if there was ever a year to sit out an election, I think this is it. I'm grateful to be serving in the Peace Corps on this beautiful island, and not being subjected to all the negative campaign ads during 2016.

For someone who had always been optimistic about the future of America, I'm turning into a pessimist. We owe it to our future generations to do better than we are doing now. In the meantime, I'm hoping to be proven wrong and for things to turn out better than I currently think they will. Please!

A pensive picture from my days as an elected official.


  1. Thanks for sharing your views. I am very glad your PCV experience is going well and you love serving on our beautiful island. WV will miss your vote today, but as you likely realized, the actual voting is such the tip of the democracy iceberg -- so much of the reality is below the surface, mostly unseen unless people really want to open their eyes, and too many would rather live in denial or at the non-substantive surface level. We have confidence that your fellow West Virginians will make the wise choice -- would that next month Californians would also have the wisdom to upset the political assumptions as did those from Michigan and Indiana.
    Looking forward to a likely visit to Dominica in July!!

  2. I wonder if Dr. Staats was talking when this picture was snapped? :-) Great post.