04 November 2008

Voting: The Reality

Howdy, folks!

My last, elegiac post gave my feelings about voting. I had written most of that a while back, but had to publish it before actually going out and voting, for goodness' sake.

So, today being THE DAY, I did go out and vote.

I pulled up and parked on the street at 11:27 am. My polling place (always a new one: don't think I have voted at the same place twice!) was the Washington Park Community Center, located in the east side of Denver's park of the same name.

I had wondered where I would park. I had wondered how long the fabled long lines would be. I had expected I would have time to drop a few tweets to Twitter friends, and to read my book, "The Unfolding of Language."

So I walked up the road toward the community center itself, looking for people streaming out, looking for the lines. I love those big black-on-white signs officially announcing 'Polling Place for Precincts . . ." They made it official. This was the place.

I went inside. The place is a community center with a large gym, workout room, and pool. Quite nice, actually.

And I still didn't see the line.

I was standing there wondering where to go when a fellow near me asked, "You here to vote?"


He pointed me around the main check-in desk and to the left, down to the gym.

I was trembling with excitement.

Followed the short hallway and the ramp down to the wide-open double doors of the gym. There, people were standing around, waiting to greet me.

Waiting to greet ANY voter.

In short, reader, there was NO LINE. Not a line at the table where they look your name up in the voter rolls. Not a line waiting for a voting booth. There were ten or so of these booths set up in the middle of the room, and three or so other people voting at the moment.

I approached the alphabetically correct "line" at the folding tables, and gave the young man my name. Just to make sure, I handed him my official voter card, the thing I got in the mail that told me that this was my polling place.

He riffled through the log. He paged forward, then back.

He looked up at me and said, "Um, I'm not sure. . ."

The guy sitting next to him asked me what my precinct number was. I told him. It was two-nineteen.

"Oh, well, 219 isn't here. You have to go somewhere else," said the second, older guy.

I was dumbfounded. But not convinced.

I knew that it said 219 right on my card, the card the young man still had in front of him on the open voter rolls. And I knew that that card had this location as my polling place. All of which I told them.

Looking behind the election judges, I saw a second row of folding tables. Piled on these tables were stacks of the paper ballots we are using in Denver County this year. They were allocated by precinct number. And right there at the first stack was a small hand-lettered sign that said "219."

As I tried to point that out, the older guy was telling me where I had to go. He insisted that it was not very far away.

He was "sure that 219 was not here."

Then, a breakthrough.

The younger election judge looked back at his computer printout rolls, back at my card, paged a few pages, and found me.

Then they fell into their official mode, the one man writing down my voter number in a log, the other one taking my signature.

"Well, what was this all about?" I asked.

"I was spelling your name with "Ha" instead of "He."

"Oh. That would do it," I said.

The rest of the experience went smoothly. I was handed two large thin cardboard ballot cards. They were inside a plain white "security sleeve." I took them over to one of the "booths," which was a flimsy but official place to write and to shield my ballot on three sides.

Our ballot here in Colorado was long this year, but I was perfectly prepared. I had my cheat sheet with me in my book, and I took it out and filled out the ballot.

These ballots, I assume, are identical to the ones people have been using for some weeks of mail-in voting. Next to each choice, each candidate, or the words Yes and No, is an arrow missing its middle section. To mark your choice, you connect the left and right parts of the arrow. A nice dark, thick pencil for this purpose is wired to the voting booth.

When I was done with that, I was not sure where to take the ballot. Looking around, it became clear. There was a table set up across the room with two large boxes. Somewhat disturbingly, one was red and one was blue, but this had nothing to do with party affiliation! The red one was for mail-in ballots that people were walking in with. The blue one was for people voting today, like me.

Part of this whole experience is the interaction with the people manning the polls. Obviously, it didn't start well for me, with the two somewhat incompetent election judges who were very quick to assume I was in the wrong place. But it ended well, with the pleasant lady standing behind the table with the boxes. We talked a little bit about the light turnout. She supposed it was because so many people voted early or by mail-in ballot.

I fumbled with my cards a bit. She told me that no, the security sleeve doesn't fit in the slot, just the ballot cards do. She told me to just slip them in the slot and tilt them up, so they would slide in.

For some reason I flashed on a death at sea, where the wrapped-up corpse is up-ended into the briny deep.

Erasing that from my mind and laughing at myself a bit, I tipped my ballots up, slid them in, and cast my vote.

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