After I became an American citizen, my first act, by choice, was to register as a voter in Idaho. I still remember the sensation and sense of belonging as I wrote, "Yes," in response to the question "Are you a citizen of the United States of America?"
There are other benefits of citizenship. After arriving from an international trip, travelers are sorted into three lines at the customs in any port of entry. The first line is for American citizens. The second is for those with Green Cards and Canadians. The third line is All Others. I have been in all three lines. There is a sense of comfort as you are checked in by your fellow citizens.
It is mind-boggling to try understanding why so many citizens, with God-given and government-sanctioned rights to vote, choose not to participate in the most critical civic exercise: voting - whether voting during primaries or for school bond issues or recalling an errant politician. Unless one is mentally incapable of voting or their rights have been taken away for one reason or another, there is no excuse not to participate in this critical exercise.
Are you satisfied with how the city, county, state and national governmental bodies are using your taxes? Do you like the years of slogan after slogan followed by dismal results in education? Is the education of all children important and, if so, why is Idaho the only state that does not financially support early childhood education? Are you bothered by the fact that women, even those employed by the state, are routinely paid less than their male colleagues doing the same jobs?
You can construct more questions like these that relate to any aspect you consider important, be it roads, wilderness, human rights or religious freedom. The point is that there are myriad issues that require our (citizens') participation.
Yes, my first voting experience was memorable. You enter the room and you are greeted by a nice senior citizen who asks your name. She or he then directs you to another desk where you receive instructions, after being asked to say your name again. After casting your vote, another person asks your name (third time) and then verbally states, "Vincent Kituku has voted," before giving you a white label with "I Voted" written on it in red color.
The results of my first voting experience as an American were good. Several candidates were contesting for Eagle City Council seats. All my selections (non-incumbents) won. I came to know them as we challenged a proposal the previous group was forcing on citizens/residents without due process. We were able to slow things down until other parties with vested interests and "more clout" got involved.
I couldn't wait for May 20 to participate in the 2014 primaries in Idaho. I took advantage of the Early Voting opportunity. It was just in-and-out - no lines, thus providing me a moment or two to let the helpers learn to figure out my "Wyoming Accent."
In most countries, citizens don't have the freedom to meaningfully participate in their government. I thank God for the honor, privilege and freedom to vote.
Vincent Kituku is an author, speaker and founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope.