Thursday, October 30, 2008

Getting Out My Vote

(warning: this is lengthy)

I voted today. It took about an hour, which wasn't bad, considering how volatile this year's election is.

I hadn't been going to vote early, but then I realized two things. 1) Somehow it would probably be quicker -- better 1 hour than 4, and 2) if I voted early I could spend Election Day at home with my kids (who actually will probably be busy working on projects for school, but at least I can sleep late).

Overall, it was an interesting introduction to the civic side of life here in Fayetteville, NC.

I drove up to the voting place -- note: I learned today that this Early Voting is being classified as Absentee Voting here, so that, my official told me, they could be counted at the same time as the Absentee Ballots rather than in some other group. Okay. Anyway, I spotted the place easily because there were cars parked all along the roadside, political signs were clustered around the end of the sidewalk, sufficiently far away from the entrance, and there was already a line outside the building. And it had only been open 8 minutes.

I found a parking place in a grove of trees near the back of the property and walked across the playing field to the building, a local recreational center. It was sunny and breezy, thankfully. My spot in line began about 100 feet back, and the line wasn't moving yet. It wasn't encouraging that people were disputing whether or not the line had started to move, and some were talking about having been shut out of another polling place when time ran out. For a while I simply stood in line, then I pulled out a book I'd brought along to read. But athat was camouflage for my eavesdropping.

The couple in front of me, older, white, were quiet. He shifted from foot to foot; she ate an energy bar. Behind me were three or four young black women, and interspersed in the line were soldiers from the nearby bases, many of them in camo and berets. Cell phones rang and people reported on how long they'd been in line and whether or not they could pick up the kids later. I was glad to hear one young woman tell her friend he -- she? -- needed to come out and vote.

Some people behind me talked about what voting was like in other places, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Baltimore. One of the young women said she'd never voted before. She seemed dubious about the process even as she stood there. I never was clear on why she was voting now; she said that she wouldn't be surprised if 'they' said Obama didn't win whether he did or not. If that happened, she said, there'd be riots. Not that she' would, but a lot of people were born that way, she said, 'programmed' to react that way in that sort of situation. Her friend hoped that it wouldn't happen like that. She talked about what happened to Al Gore in Florida. Judging from her words and tone, she still believed in the value of the vote.

Soon a tall man came down the line with a small sheet of paper telling about himself and what he was running for. I didn't think it applied to me -- not my precinct -- but I took his paper anyway, even as I wondered if he was supposed to do that. I'm pretty sure he wasn't; later I saw an official talking to him and he didn't approach the line again. A few minutes later a woman with a petition attached to a clipboard came along. The couple in front of me listened attentively as the woman asked for their signatures on a petition to the Governor to explore creating alternative energy jobs, green jobs in the state. They listened but declined to sign. It sounded like a good idea to me, North Carolina needs jobs, and I've already seen signs of 'caring about the green' in Fayetteville. Besides, exploring a concept can never hurt, so I signed.

Another official worked her way down the line handing out slips of paper reminding us all that the 'Party Line' button didn't include the Presidential candidates. You had to vote for them separately, so be sure to press the ir button!

Once inside the building, the line was steered to the left. We'd been here long enough now that the first voters were coming back out. Some were young, some old, some black, some white, some male, some female. But every one of them looked satisfied. They had done their bit.

I was still alternating between watching what was going on around me and reading, but I started thinking about who we were. Some of these people had young children. Some were young adults, maybe working, maybe in college, several in the armed services. Some were older, maybe retirees, or workers on a late lunch break. No doubt all of us in line had some kind of problem or crisis going on in our lives. Right now that seems inevitable. But we were all here.

We proceeded to the room where the actual voting was. A young soldier was at the table ahead of us, waiting on his voting slip. The woman in the couple ahead of me passed by him to the next worker, glancing around as she did. Her husband waited just in front of me, alternating his attention between his wife and watching when he should move forward. Where were the paper ballots? they wanted to know. Why were the touchscreens in here?

The official explained that touchscreens were used for early voting; if they wanted the paper ballots, they had to go to their designated polling place on Election Day. Thus began a lengthy, not-too-noisy complaint from the couple about how the paper ballots were superior and how improper and inefficient it was that the facts about the use of touchscreens hadn't been publicized in advance. By this time the woman had been joined by her husband. The worker who was waiting on the soldier waved him on and me forward, keeping an eye on this couple at the same time. I also wondered if she'd have to intervene. The couple moved on; I think they chose not to vote today. I received my voting slip -- actually an application for Absentee Voting, so that my early vote would be counted -- and moved on myself. In just a couple minutes a worker was escorting me to and instructing me on the touchscreen.

I actually prefer the touchscreens over the paper ballot. The primary was the first time I'd ever used a paper ballot. In other states where I've voted, they used the old mechanical voting booths with curtains and levers. Tennessee had a variation on them. They had lighted buttons instead of little levers. However, all these other models had privacy curtains, something touchscreens could use.

I voted, trolling through the screens rather than using the 'Party Line' button -- I do prefer to make my own choices. Then I picked up my 'I Voted' sticker, and I left. People outside -- you'd almost think they were hired 'specially for this -- thanked me for voting as I walked around the building to go to my car.

I'd said to my daughter before I left the house that at least going out to vote was something I could do that wasn't going to cost me anything. Well, gas, but we'll discount that. For so many people right now, money is not only tight, it's choking the spirit out of them. Others have lost loved ones overseas, or they're facing separation in the near future because they're going overseas themselves. But here we all were, in line to vote. To do the only thing we could at the moment for ourselves and for our country.

We had various reasons for why we voted the ways we did. Some people weren't voting 'for' a candidate but 'against' another. Some people I'm sure did vote 'Party Line' else why would that be such a big deal on the ballot? I know my mother-in-law tended to vote that way. I'm sure some people voted for a candidate because they were a 'first' or because they were a match gender-wise or racially. Some people studied up on candidates and their positions. Probably all of us either watched the debates or heard the reports on them. And, because I know I did it myself for a few races, some of us voted for names we recognized or whose sound we liked. Ideally everyone should make an intelligent choice, but the fact that so many people are concerned enough to make a choice, and that we can... these are facts that matter.

We're trying to take control of our lives and our country. We are trying to act responsibly as best we know how. The simple act of voting, using our brains and making a choice about how we want to live, costs us nothing, yet it can be one of the most important things we do for ourselves, our community, and our country.


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