Updated: June 11, 2012 9:16AM
Tracy Cooley did the unthinkable on Tuesday.
The 55-year-old voter from the Miller section of Gary asked for a Republican ballot, although he has voted Democrat since 1972.
It didn’t matter that the “principles of the Democratic Party” surge through his blood, or that his mother’s family were pro-union activists.
He asked for the Republican ballot for one simple, yet very serious reason in his mind. To vote against Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who was running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar.
“It scares me that we may have a hard-core tea partier as our senator,” Cooley told me after casting his ballot. “Mourdock and his ilk are scary. I can’t imagine where things would end up if they got control of the (U.S.) House, Senate and White House.”
I heard this same refrain from other voters, from both sides of the political aisle. But, as of this writing, I don’t know if their votes against Mourdock kept him from winning against Lugar, which is the hottest race on the ballot in this state.
As I do on everytime voters cast ballots, I cruised the region to visit polling places, chat with voters and get a pulse on what’s become an oxymoron in this region, the term “voter turnout.” I also ambushed a few voters with my voting day pop quiz.
This year’s questions on basic U.S. civics and government were based on a new study by the Center for the Study of the American Dream. It asked native-born Americans the same questions asked to foreign-born immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship.
Immigrants must get at least six of the 10 questions correct, and 93 percent of them do, according to the study. When native-born U.S. voters were asked those 10 questions, only two thirds of them could correctly answer six out of 10.
Are we a nation of civic illiterates, as the study’s author questioned? To find out, I asked a few region voters a sampling of those test questions, such as, “We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?” And, “What is an amendment?”
Of the dozen or so voters I asked, only three could correctly answer more than five of the 10 questions, extracted from a bank of 100 similar questions. No, they weren’t allowed time to study, as the immigrants are allowed. And yes, they were put on the spot by me. But you get the woeful gist of things here.
Still, I give them credit for even being a part of that dirty four-letter word: vote.
Dear voters, think quick!
Many region residents were either too busy, too apathetic or too disillusioned to cast their ballot at all.
Nathyn Gibson of Lake Station said he didn’t vote because he couldn’t budget it into his day between his job and his finals week of class work at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond. He simply wasn’t able to drive back to Lake Station to vote, he said.
Sheryl Peterson, of Porter, said she, too, couldn’t squeeze it into her busy day, even though she has two young children who will soon be a part of the Duneland Schools district. Voters in that district faced an important decision to vote for, or against, a referendum allowing a tax increase or forcing the firing of teachers and staff.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Peterson told me at a Chesterton gas station, her kids listening from her car’s backseat.
So, I asked her, will you vote now that you know this relevant information?
“I doubt it,” she said embarrassingly. “I’ve never voted before.”
I asked others: If they’re not voting, why not?
“Frankly, the choice of candidates is too often like a choice between syphilis and gonorrhea, or terminal cancer and AIDS,” joked Richard Velasco of Crown Point.
What about all those protesters against the volatile right-to-work legislation that passed amid turmoil in the General Assembly earlier this year? Did that ordeal compel people to vote for the candidate they believe will overturn that bill?
“That will come in the general election, not the primary,” answered Peter F., of Highland, who also opted not to vote.
Some people said they didn’t know Tuesday was a day to cast ballots. Is that possible?
Not only were old-school campaign signs in yards, fields and street corners. But I was bombarded on social media sites by more contemporary campaign tactics, including reminders from public office holders.
“Make sure to vote for Joe Wsolek County Council,” stated a text message on my phone from Portage Mayor Jim Snyder.
And this cyber-reminder arrived via Facebook from an incumbent running to retain his office: “VOTE TODAY TO ELECT JOHN EVANS, PORTER COUNTY COMMISSIONER!”
My favorite social media post of the day came from Mike Brown, a first-time candidate for Lake County recorder, or any public office for that matter.
“Proud to say I checked one off my bucket list when I voted for myself for the first time today,” he wrote. “Feeling accomplished today. Victory would be ... Wow.”
By the way, the answers to my pop quiz questions above are, in order, “Six years,” and “A formal change to the U.S. Constitution.”
Only three voters I talked with answered both correctly. Wow indeed.
Find more of Jerry’s writings on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and jerrydavich.wordpress.com.