It was Voting Day in Referendia, the kickoff to voting season. Luckily for the noble citizens of the nation, voting wasn’t confined to a single day, but rather, extended over several weeks. It was a glorious time when everything could be subject to a vote and everyone had to answer to everyone else.
And what a fantastic season of voting it would be! Mr. Bronski put forth a bill proposing war with the neighboring country Ballot Bay, as his ex-wife had fled to the small republic with the kids. Ballot Bay had formerly been a province of Referendia, but decided they weren’t such avid fans of voting, so they voted to secede. In one of the more contentious votes of the election cycle, Mrs. Ruprecht offered a referendum mandating that her neighbor, Mr. Mallardi, trim his hedges at least once a week. In response, Mr. Mallardi proposed a spending bill that would allocate funds to investigate whether Mrs. Ruprecht’s beagle, Dougie, had been shitting on his lawn each morning. There was also a vote to send Billy Armstrong to prison. It would surely pass. No one gave a damn about Billy Armstrong.
It was a marvelous day. The citizens flooded the voting centers, some of which stood one hundred stories high. They would emerge twelve hours later, glowing in anticipation of the post-voting festivities. Each bill-drafter was allotted one minute to make their case. At the end of the day, the people voted on each one. Polling officials tabulated the votes that night and the VEA (Voting Enforcement Agency) began enforcing the new laws the following morning. Over several weeks, the people voted on over five thousand initiatives, bills, referendums, and budget proposals. And not a single politician stood amongst them—only polling officials and voting enforcement officers. No debate took place either, as it would only corrupt the purity of such a pristine process.
There was one restriction on voting, and what a brilliant check it was! If a proposal received less than a one percent vote, a majority vote was held to determine whether to execute the drafter. The rule was necessary to keep the nonsense off the ballot, leaving more room for contentious issues such as Mr. Mallardi’s hedges. No vote had ever been so unpopular; no drafter had ever been so mindless.
Roosevelt Dirks hated voting. He always had. He loathed the day when voting officials herded them like cattle into a tower to listen to everyone’s petty squabbles. He didn’t care about war with Ballot Bay, or Mr. Mallardi’s hedges, or Dougie’s bowel movements. Even if he did, he didn’t see why he should have a say in the matter. Unfortunately for Roosevelt Dirks, in Referendia everything was everyone’s business, and everyone had an even say. That’s how everyone—or at least 50.1 percent of the population—liked it.
But this year, Roosevelt submitted a bill of his own.
As Roosevelt trudged to his assigned polling station, he heard the stern tone of the authorities. “Sir,” said a stocky man, VOTING ENFORCEMENT OFFICER across his chest and PROTECTING THE COMMON WILL stitched into his ball cap. Roosevelt wondered what hackneyed quip the voters would add to the uniform this year. They would have to start hiring fatter officers, he thought. They were running out of room. The man pulled Roosevelt aside. “Do you have any idea why I’m stopping you?”
“I’m not sure, officer. It’s an important day and I get nervous.”
The officer looked down his nose at him. “So nervous you forgot to wear your voter enthusiasm button?”
“Your voter enthusiasm button. It was issued last week during the voting preparation seminars, voted in last year by referendum 2946.15458(t)(6)(xvii), put forth by Mrs. Henderson. My God, her bills do a lot of good for our community.”
“I’m sure they do.”
“So why no button?” Roosevelt watched the officer’s hand graze the firearm on his hip.
“I’m sorry,” Roosevelt mumbled. “I’m not a big button guy. It doesn’t match my Voting Day outfit.”
The officer frowned. “Look, smartass, you’re lucky I’m in a good mood because it’s Voting Day, but you better watch your attitude. Here,” he said, as he slapped a button onto Roosevelt’s chest. “Now let’s see your voter ID. I’m going to have to ticket you for no button, of course. It’s for your own good.”
His nostrils flared at the audacity of the question. “Promotes voter cohesion, enthusiasm, and fun. You could use more of all three.” He took down Roosevelt’s information and shoved him back into the hordes of buttoned masses.
When Roosevelt’s referendum was up later that day, a voting official summoned him to the podium. The drafter was broadcast throughout the hundreds of polling stations on massive screens so that everyone could hear the pitch.
“You have one minute.”
Roosevelt cleared his throat. “Today, I put forth a referendum to end voting as it exists in Referendia. I’ve researched the origin of our practice and learned that it began with a belief in the right to play a role in the governance of our own lives. It was about having a say in who got to make the rules, and what the general rules should be. But now? We no longer rule ourselves. We submit every private quibble to the masses for decision. And why? Why should I get say in your private affairs? What are the average citizen’s qualifications on such matters? Don’t these decisions lie beyond the realm of popularity? Instead, we should make our own rules. We should limit voting to only the issues that affect us all—to making sure that we’re all treated with dignity and respect.”
“Time!” the voting official called. The crowd murmured as Roosevelt returned to his seat. The voting official called the next citizen to the podium.
“You have one minute.”
At the end of the day, the noble citizens of Referendia voted.
The next morning, Roosevelt Dirks was hanged.
Nils Gilbertson is a crime and mystery writer, UC Berkeley graduate, and practicing attorney. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Nils currently lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and German Shorthaired Pointer. His short stories have appeared in Mystery Magazine, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir Vol. 2, Pulp Modern, Rock and a Hard Place, and others. You can find him on Twitter @NilsGilbertson and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.