So I voted this morning.
I’ve only done that twice in my life before, and the last time was at some point in the early 1990s when I was still a student 1.
With all the hoopla over recent elections in the US (hanging chads, anyone?) I was under the impression that everyone had these fancy voting machines, and I was a bit nervous about pressing the wrong button or pulling the wrong lever or not knowing what to do. I was also nervous about forgetting my ID and being turned away, so I carefully punched out the Certificate of Voter Registration that had been sent to me (ironically, while I was in Scotland), and made sure my photo-bearing driver’s license was in my wallet and that my wallet was in my pocket.
We dropped the kids off at school and then drove to the First Methodist Church, to cast our first votes as US citizens. I patted my pocket to make sure my wallet and all my documents were still there. I wondered if I should have brought the little flag I had been issued during the naturalization ceremony.
A forest of lawn-signs in reds and blues and whites festooned the sides of a curving path, showing us which door to use. Two party volunteers flanked the path, one clutching sample ballots and a Kindle 2. We took a sample ballot each and discovered they had been put together by the Republicans and only showed the names of Republican candidates. Which was pretty useful, in the event…
Once inside, we discovered a scene that looked very familiar from the couple of elections I voted in before: three little old ladies with perms and tailored jackets sitting behind a table, ready to give out ballot papers. K announced his name and the first little old lady looked him up on a print-out that lay on the long folding table in front of them. We could see the whole page of names, so he pointed out my name as well – and had a look at all the other people on the ‘d’ page too, no doubt.
The first little old lady copied our names in flawless copperplate into a little lined journal and jotted then numbers “016” and “017” next to them. The middle little old lady, called out our names to the third little old lady, who carefully hand-printed them and our newly-issued numbers onto a pre-printed page. We shuffled along the folding table and signed a piece of paper where ever she pointed, and were handed a ballot paper stuffed into a manilla folder. This was all starting out much less high-tech than I had expected.
At the end of the room, in front of a wall of windows, someone had erected a rickety standing desk, with three yellow, metal partitions. A fellow citizen was already at the right-most box. K took the one furthest away, and I slipped behind the stranger to take the middle one. As I passed, I considered taking a peek over his shoulder, just to see if I could, but was suddenly distracted by the huge cross standing on the window sill. Despite the fact that we were in a church building, I was still a bit surprised that they were allowed to keep such a flagrant display of religiosity in a room being used for the pursuit of democracy! Separation of church and state, people! I’m afraid I have to allow that I may have been unduly influenced by that thing to remember all my Christian principles and that might have affected my opinion on social issues and that, in turn, may have affected how I voted. Oh, the shame!
So anyway, around the other side of the box I discovered that our local voting place uses the extraordinary voting technology of: a piece of paper with blank dots on it, paired with a pen on a string.
I have to tell you, I was pretty happy about that :D I stood at the creaky, rickety desk, happily finishing up my colouring-in while K went off to hand in his ballot.
Instead of folding my ballot paper and stuffing it through the slot on a locked metal box, I handed my folder to the election official (and older man, this time) standing beside what looked like a big, upright photocopier. He held the folder gingerly, with my ballot paper poking out, ripped off a perforated stub from the bottom of the paper and then asked me to pull it out of the folder and slide it into a slot on the top of the machine. I’m guessing there are very strict rules about who is allowed to touch what, and when. When the automatic sheet-feeder thingy refused my ballot at its first attempt, he could only coach me to pull it out and try again, all the while keeping his distance. His hands may have been behind his back.
Which strikes me as pretty hilarious considering no-one ever, not once, asked for any proof that I was who I said I was.
As I was finishing up, one of my neighbors came in. He jovially asked the coven whether or not they ever asked for ID.
“Oh no,” the first little old lady said. “We don’t get too many shady characters around here.”
The neighbor and I looked at each other and laughed, but now that I’m home I do wonder what would count, in that little old lady’s mind, as a ‘shady character’ and whether or not I should have laughed at all. I also have a much clearer idea of why there are so many people out there crying foul about election fraud.
But hey. That was the big excitement today. K took a picture of me, as I left the polling station, we said good morning and an insincere ‘good luck’ to the Republicans outside, and walked together through sunshine and autumn leaves to get on with our day.
- Yes, yes, I could have been voting all these years, as some of my UK friends do, but a long-ago rant by my father about ex-pats who vote on British issues and then don’t come back to live the with consequences, convinced me that, unless I was going to be living in the country during the next term of whoever I was voting for, I should just sit down and shut up. So I never have cast an absentee ballot even though I think I’m still entitled to. ↩
- I don’t think our district has that many people in it, and I don’t think many people were as excited about this small, local election as we were. She was probably anticipating a lo-ong day. ↩