In 1976, my family lived outside a small town in the Sierra Nevada. There was not much to get excited about there. An occasional bear needing relocation, a fire now and then, a tarantula in my boot: these were the only distractions in an otherwise quiet existence.
But that year's presidential election brought with it a period of heated debate in my home. My father, a Democrat, detested Gerald Ford and did not like Jimmy Carter very much, either. He had decided to vote his party's ticket, anyway, but he could not convince me to do the same.
Having recently turned 18, I was voting for the first time, and I was excited about participating in an adult activity that did not require a fake ID. I wanted to vote my conscience, and for me that meant writing in Jerry Brown, who had won the primary in California but had lost it in just about every other state in the union, or at least in those where he had managed to register for the election on time.
My father believed I was throwing away my vote, and this proved a source of tension between us. Nevertheless, when the time came for me to go to town and mark my ballot, I wrote in Brown's name. The next morning, the results of the election were published in the Sonora Democrat, the only daily paper in Tuolumne County.
"Well, you did it. You wrote in Brown," my father said, perusing the front page.
"How do you know?" I asked.
He showed me the article he was reading. It contained the election results for Tuolumne County.
The reporter had meticulously recorded the tallies for each voting precinct. In all of Tuolumne County, an area of more than 2,000 square miles including 30 unincorporated towns, the county seat of Sonora, and approximately 30,000 people, only one voter had written in Jerry Brown's name.
"Wow," I said. "My vote made the paper."
It was, of course, a protest vote, but writing in Brown was also a sincere statement. I believed in Jerry Brown, and I thought he would make a good president. I wanted my vote to mean something, even if I was the only person who understood the message, and 36 years later, I still stand by that vote.
It was a vote of conscience, and so I will never believe it was foolish. I hope that when my children are old enough to vote, they will have the character to cast votes for those candidates they believe do not have a chance.
While voting is considered an act of patriotism, I have to admit I am not especially patriotic.
Sometimes I even dream of living in another country, a quiet, ineffectual island nation where the word "awesome," seven-month basketball seasons and the Kardashian family have all been outlawed.
But on Election Day I feel grounded in America and proud of our well-intentioned democratic ideals. I enjoy the ritual of voting, of watching some nice elderly citizen find my name on the list and check me off on the roster.
I appreciate the easy camaraderie of a polling precinct, the feeling of unity when so many disparate people come together to turn their opinions, finally, into actions. And I think that little sticker that says I Voted, while unabashedly self-congratulatory, is kind of cool, too. Despite my doubts about the Electoral College, I still somehow feel important when I am in the voting booth.
So, in the spirit of the best of all American traditions, I encourage you to go to the polls Tuesday. But please go informed. Ignore the noise -- the fliers and impassioned advertisements and posters -- surrounding the election, and instead take the time to read your California General Election Voter Guide.
Californians have valid questions about the efficacy of the many items on which our tax dollars are spent, but surely the voter guide could never be considered wasted money. In it is all that you need to become genuinely informed on the propositions.
Finally, when you cast your ballot on Tuesday, trust your own good sense, and vote your conscience.
Most of us have a pretty good one.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.