I went to vote early on Friday. I figured…hey get it out of the way and you won’t have to fight the crowds on Tuesday. You know…kill a half hour today vs. two or three next week to perform my civic duty.
For some reason when I go to a general election I always get the feeling that most people are there voting for their first time. Thinking to myself…these people obviously didn’t vote in the primary election…or in the past eighteen zillion elections. I’m certain they didn’t go to vote when the community fire department needed a yes vote to buy a shiny new red fire truck! There’s no way they have gone to all of these elections…certainly not like I have! You get the feeling they’re the kind of people who only go to church once a year on a holiday…yes those kind of people. (Yeah…right Tim.) So…
No Worries…Time for Coffee
So here was my plan…I would leave the house, get to the polls before work and still have time to swing by the coffee shop before I punched my daily time card. I dodged the frost…veered from a few squirrels crossing the road while I drove with steadfast ambition…I waved to the local finest…and proudly headed downtown to cast an early ballot. Now for those of you who don’t know this…my home is located in the suburbs…and a vote on election Tuesday would normally occur in the suburbs at some local school or church. But if you vote early you need to go to the County Board of Elections which is located in downtown Dayton. So after turning down a few wrong way one way streets…ugh…I made my way into a parking garage which was conveniently three blocks from the ‘100 FEET TO POLLS’ signs. 🙂
All was looking good…my watch said 7:45…plenty of time to punch a few chads and head back to the office. The sun had a warm glow that cast itself proudly on the County building…as though it was calling me to vote. A few elderly women were making their way up the steps into the building…and a couple of campaign supporters were passing out flyers to vote for their Dad or uncle (you know…cast your vote for the judge that is the only candidate running for that position). I held the door for the two kind women and made my way inside. I was greeted by enough way finding signs to truly confuse even a creative director. Which of course it did. Arrows pointing all over the place some North…South…East…and West to an elevator…an escalator..and hallways alike. So I decided to follow my two new friends. I figured they had a little more experience or at least patience than I did. We were greeted by a kind gentleman who handed us a packet containing two forms and a number…he then pointed us to the escalator. I figured…wow…sweet…this is going to move quickly!
A Sea of Shining People
As we boarded the escalator we started to see a line of people. We literally went down at least five escalators…the guy in front of me turned and said…”they’re not making this easy are they”. As the walkway stopped it opened into a sea of people…a few hundred! Fifty or so volunteers were vigorously punching the keys on PC’s like a scene right out of an old Frank Capra film. It looked as though they were checking in half the county! The PA squawked orderly orders to move us into an amphitheatre where another hundred or so would-be voters sat waiting for their number to be called. A knowledgeable gentleman gave specific instructions to all of us on how to fill out the two forms and where to go next.
And then it struck me. I haven’t seen this kind of excitement to vote…ever…I mean EVER. Now grant it I’m only 46…but I’ve seen my share of polls. The closest thing to anything like this was the 1980 General Election: Reagan vs. Mondale…and to be honest it didn’t come close to this. You remember that election…Reagan won in a landslide.
All ages and races cluttered the room. Everyone was orderly…and I sensed they were excited to be there. Somehow it didn’t have the same feeling as a child being dragged to a holiday mass (remember when you were a kid and your Dad dragged you by your ear to go to mass!! WELL I DO!).
The “I” Formation
After moving to a few more designated holding areas…my number was finally called for the final time. I then moved to the PC lady…I sat with her punching in all the things she needed to punch in…verifying my ID…my address..making sure I would get the right city ballot etc. She then passed a note over her shoulder to a man resembling the great Jim Brown…he took off like a fullback down a long hallway and into a backroom to retrieve my ballot.
In our joint down time…I asked the woman…is it always like this downtown around election time. She smiled looking exhausted already from the seemingly long day (one hour to be exact)…”no sir this is a first. You’re number 364 and the office has only been open less than an hour. Yesterday…we did a couple thousand.”
Meanwhile Jim Brown hadn’t returned while other people were being processed all around me. After another five minutes or so…I whispered to her…I’m in the witness protection program…I understand if he’s having a problem finding my ballot. Her reaction…yeah you guessed it…dead pan. Oops…best not joke here or you may lose your right to vote. At that very moment bodies began to fly around from behind her…as the would be Jim Brown proudly came clear in the masses delivering my ballot. He stopped…leaned in..and said sorry for the delay sir…then he winked and took his guard dog stance behind the animated clerk.
Mrs. Personality then thoroughly explained to me the instructions and told me how to shade in all the little circles on the ballot (I thought to myself…damn…no hanging chads or electronic kiosks to blame this year). So off “I” went…
Circle…Stay in the Lines
I looked into the room of nearly 100 people standing and sitting in little plastic stalls behind tripod walls surrounding each of them. Little forts…like the kind you used to have in elementary school when you were forced to read with headsets and not be distracted by your friends. Remember if you tried to look up or to pass a note to little Johnny or Annie…WACK!!!…you’d get smacked with a ruler…yeah…that kind of feeling. Everyone had their head down concentrating on the task at hand…the vote. A cool looking dude with a pony tail pointed me to the next available penalty box.
Here we go…time to vote. I opened my ballot…it consisted of two large 11″ x 17 ” pieces of thick double sided ballots with all the candidates and issues pertaining to Ohio and my city. Above the fold and to the right was the spot to vote for President and Vice President. At the top of the page listed first was the Obama/Biden ticket…expecting to see the Republicans next I looked down…and down…and down until I finally saw McCain/Palin about six tickets down buried around a bunch of ‘want-a-be’ nobodies who somehow sneaked their way on the national ballot…and then at the very bottom was Ralph Nader/with his ‘Who the heck is this guy’ running mate.
Hmmm… a Democratic governor now presides in the state of Ohio…that might have a little to do with the positioning of candidates on the ballot. Interesting. I looked over the selections carefully…and I filled in the circle thingies without going outside of the lines…and continued to vote on all of the other items on the ballot that I cared about…including helping out the local finest with that shiny new red fire truck 🙂
No Time for Coffee
I placed my completed ballot back into its provided envelope and literally pushed my way out of the room to deliver my ballot thru a wave of anxious circle fillers bustling by me to their respective little cubicles. I weaved and dodged my way to the final stage in the process. The Walmart lady. You know her…the one who was supposed to take my ballot…glue it…seal it…and send it to Countingland on election day. I proudly handed my grandma…ok someone who could have been my grandma…my ballot. She smiled…said thank you…and handed me a ‘one trillion dollar’ sticker which thanked me for my vote. And that was it. I was done. My vote in the 2008 General Election was complete. I looked at my watch and realized that I was there well over an hour…no time for coffee…only time to get back to the office.
So what did I learn. First…you may want to go vote early this year. My one hour voting excursion will probably be a three hour wait for you on Tuesday.
More importantly…I learned that this year the country is invigorated with an election that will soon come to an end. I predict a mandate…a landslide. Just as we saw with Reagan. Never in my life have I seen so many people…so ready to vote. Never have I seen so many people…of all ages and races…so ready to vote. Never have I seen so many people…so serious and with so much silent conviction at the polls. Never before have I seen so many people…in this country standing so proud to cast their voice.
Hmmm…maybe in four more years at the next election I won’t be thinking that I’m the only guy ready to vote…and maybe just maybe…there will be eight hundred zillion people ready to be heard. Or at least 50 million.
Your country is dragging you by your ear…you know what to do.