In many ways, my first two experiences voting are my most memorable.

In 1986, just after my 4th birthday, my parents took me with them as they cast their votes in the midterm elections at the elementary school in my mountain hometown of Spruce Pine.  My mom even let me take the little stylus and punch the holes on the ballot – don’t worry, she told me which ones to punch – and I had a blast doing so, since that’s about the funnest thing you can ever hope to do as a 4-year-old in Spruce Pine.  Throughout the rest of the day I expressed my excitement about “the vote” to anyone who would listen, and begged my parents to let me “go back to the vote tomorrow.”

The only Republican presidential ticket I ever voted for.

Two years later, as a kindergartner, I voted in my first presidential election.  I looked at the two names on the ballot, and recognized one. I had no idea who Michael Dukakis was, but I had been introduced to George Bush when I watched his Republican National Convention speech that summer along with my parents.  “Who’s that man talking?” I asked them as we watched the speech on CNN.

“That’s George Bush,” Dad explained.  “He’s the vice president.”

“Why are all these people cheering?  This is serious!”  I guess I hadn’t yet grasped the concept of “firing up the base.”

But because of that speech, I did understand “name recognition.”  I circled George Bush’s name on my ballot and turned it in.  Bush carried Mrs. Sossamon’s classroom by a narrow margin of 14 votes to 12, meaning that Governor Dukakis polled five points higher in our classroom than he had in the state of North Carolina.  I guess we were a Democratic stronghold.

Anyway, when I got home, Mom met me at the door.  “What did you do at school today, Alex”

“We voted!!!”

“That’s great,” Mom said, smiling.  “Who did you vote for?”

“Bush!!” I excitedly replied.

Mom’s smile disappeared.  “Alex… go to your room.”  Four years later, not wanting to be grounded again, I voted for Bill Clinton.

So maybe voting isn’t as fun now as it was when I was a kid.  But I still get a little excited every time I go to the polls.  Since I turned 18 about a week before the 2000 election, my first ballot that counted was actually cast in the 2000 Democratic primary when I was a 17-year-old high school junior.  I got up super early that morning and went to the precinct at about 6:30 a.m., an hour before school started.

Between primaries and general elections I’ve voted at least a dozen times now, but that excitement is still there.  This year was a first for me – I voted early.  For years I always had the funny feeling that my vote wasn’t real unless I did it on Election Day, but I decided to take care of it early this year since my precinct is one of the biggest in Durham County and I didn’t feel like standing in line for two hours on Tuesday.  All the same, it was an exciting experience to know that I had a say, however minuscule, in who gets to shape public policy going forward.  And as I drove home, I called my mom to let her know that I had just “gone to the vote” – that’s what we still call it in my family.  Voting may not be fun to you, but it’s still a privilege and a right that many people the world over don’t get.  Cherish it.

So on Tuesday, regardless of who you’re supporting, make your voice heard.  Take your right to be heard seriously.  And go to the vote.