Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Democratic Process

Tuesday was a pretty intense day around here. Both kids off school again, after having been back for only ONE, after that unexpected week off for Hurricane Sandy. Ethan had homework to do for the first time in a week, and yes, that went about as well as expected.

And, of course, it was election day.

The boys and I had been out all morning at a movie-and-lunch birthday party followed by some errands. I had not yet had a chance to vote.

I had been hearing tales all day long of 45 minute waits to vote, and the idea of being trapped on a crowded line with both of my boys (who get along about as well as a pair of rock-em-sock-em robots) was unappealing to say the least.

In past years I have relished taking a kid with me into the booth to talk about voting with him and have him tip the switches and pull the big lever at the end. But I knew there would be no such satisfying conclusion to the process this time, as New York City had switched over from the old mechanical voting booths to electronic voting.

So I made the (wise, wise, wise) decision to leave the boys home with their dad while I went off to vote.

When I arrived at the public school that was my polling place (new this year, they had shuffled the districts yet again) I was greeted by a very disheartening scene: a line that stretched not only out the door, but also... around the corner... all the way down the whole block... around the next corner... and 3/4 of the way down THAT block.

The line at my polling place as I left, still 2+ hours

And, we were told, this was only the half of it. The line was just as long INSIDE the building, too.

Yes, it was going to be a two hour process to vote, with one hour of it waiting outside on a very cold day. (Thank goodness I'd worn my hat and gloves!)

But I didn't even think for a second about leaving and retuning home un-voted and defeated. Even though I may have skipped an occasional inconsequential year (nothing really to vote on besides judges running uncontested, etc.) I have voted in pretty much every election since I turned eighteen, and most certainly every presidential one.

And this one? Very important to me (see Tuesday's post: Obama, Obama, Obama). Even though New York State was certain to go to Obama without my one lone vote, I knew how important it was that his electoral college win be backed up by a win in the popular vote too, and there my vote absolutely did count.

So I resigned myself to waiting. Luckily, the moment I stepped into the line, an old friend from the neighborhood popped on right behind me. Our kids had gone to the same pre-school, and they used to live across the street from us, but all that had been quite some time ago, so we had years of catching up to do -- the perfect distraction from an otherwise potentially excruciating wait.

Thankfully, just about the time my nose and toes were starting to freeze up, our part of the line had snaked its way into the building. In the meantime, the woman behind us in line had joined into our conversation, a retired teacher with grown kids who had lived in the neighborhood for years and years.

Also, many other neighbors and friends old and new were spotted, saying hello as they walked back to join the end of line or offer their sympathies as they were joyfully exiting the building. All in all, there was quite a neighborly, community-like feeling bubbling up all around us, completely appropriate to the civic-minded venture that is voting.

While I was in line, a friend texted me, letting me know she had come to vote with her youngest child in tow, seen the line and fled, knowing it was melt-down worthy. She asked me to get the scoop on how late she could show up and still be able to vote, and that's when I found out the "On the line at 9" rule. I let her know if she was here and in line by 9 (when the polls closed in NY) she would get to vote, even if it took 2 hours (and it did).

So, after all that waiting, I have to say the electronic voting process seemed a little... anti-climactic. I missed those old mechanical voting booths with their heavy crimson curtains, smelling of metal and machine oil.

I had fond memories of going to vote with my mother for years and years of my childhood, feeling shocked at how different my school building looked when it was full of adults and voting machines instead of its usual cohort of kids. I had stood with her in those selfsame booths, tipped down the switches, pulled the big lever for her, heard that satisfying ker-CHUNK that let you know your vote counted, was being tallied.

I like voting booths. There is a feeling of hush inside them, of being sequestered from the world, making your choices in secrecy, then whoosh -- as your vote goes in, the curtains open. A perfect dramatic exit.

There was none of that in the new process. It's like taking a standardized test - you get a piece of printed paper to bubble in your choices on. A "privacy booth" is just a tiny high desk on wheels with three raised sides, white melamine, nothing booth-like about it. Then you walk to the other side of the room and a bored woman looks on as you stick your paper through a computer scanner and hand it off to her afterward. Your only satisfaction: the words "Ballot Registered" or some such pops up on the screen after "scanning."

"That's it?" I thought as I hesitated for a moment before walking away. I missed the sacred feeling inside those old booths something fierce; that sense of completion upon exiting them. But what's done is done, the world has moved on and so must I.

I stepped out into the even more chill evening, two hours after having arrived, and briskly walked the six blocks home. When I got home Dan was finally able to head off to his office, voting, himself, on the way.

So Dan was working late, and Jake went to bed his usual early time, as election results tip way too far on the abstract scales to hold his interest. But Ethan stayed up with me for some time glued to the TV set, watching MSNBC (the only channel that didn't make me stabby) as the results came trickling in.

He fell asleep on the sofa, his feet in my lap, about an hour before the decisive state - Ohio - dropped into the Obama camp and victory was nigh. I called Dan to let him know and we quietly cheered together by phone.

Watching Obama's acceptance speech, I was proud of my nation for choosing to stand by this man, who, though clearly a flawed human, like all politicians, I believe has his heart in the right place, and is in possession of a soul.

Which is further evidenced in this, much smaller, but equally heartfelt and moving speech he gave when he stopped by his Chicago campaign headquarters, unannounced, to thank his campaign workers:

Hoping you enjoyed your voting process, whatever the outcome meant to you. And now I'm done with politics for the bit, and will shortly be back to my regularly scheduled program of old people and autism...


  1. Good for you on braving the line and the cold to get the job done. I agree that voting is important, no matter who you are supporting.


  2. Our county in Missouri had 2/3 of registered voters showing up at the polls - alas, we're still a red state, though I think we may have added a bit of blue to the final color.

  3. I loved that speech to the Chicago campaign headquarters; I loved the genuine emotion in his voice. It reminded me of how we think about our kids; how I see my students, who I am equally sure will do something great someday. And I loved your story of voting - we used to be lucky enough to vote IN OUR BUILDING. How sweet was that, to shuffle down in our jammies... mostly though it's just GO TEAM OBAMA. I say it's time to stop playing nicely with other children & start running with scissors. Move this country forward, kicking and screaming if need be. Mwah! I send you, Varda, a long-distance victory kiss and a yippee!

  4. I miss the ker-chunk too. I think that's why I like my sticker so much. What a good, good week!


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!