04 November 2008


I love to vote.

I am a voting fan, a voting junky, a voting devotee.

Sure, the activity is one of civic importance. It is one of our basic rights. It is one of the only times that your opinion counts to the country at large. All that sort of thing. Right.

But for me, the very act of voting bundles all of that and more up into a semi-religious civic rite, with time-honored traditions and trappings. It is the act itself and civic-holy approach to the act and the feeling of having done something important that gives me such a charge.

My devotion to the mystery of voting goes back to one childhood scene. One time my mother took me with her when she went to vote.

I knew this was something special, and something reserved for those mysterious beings who both protected me and bedeviled my world, adults. Though my mom and dad were of different parties, and always joked that their votes would "cancel out," they still always went to vote. And, though my mom might be inclined to tell me who she voted for, my Dad's vote was his secret, not to be revealed lightly.

This impressed me.

So, I already had feelings about the deep mystery of voting when my mom and I arrived at the town fire station, not far from our house. To tell the truth, it might have been the town hall building, I'm not sure which. This is not the important part of the memory, the visual image and the feelings I still carry with me.

What I remember is the machines, and the people in the machines. These were the old-time classic full-body voting machines, where you stepped inside and drew a huge muscular lever that closed the curtains behind you with a ringing clunk.

But I, perhaps ten years old, was not allowed inside the booth. I stood over at one side of the room and looked at the row of monolithic machines and the people doing whatever they were doing inside there.

All I saw were pairs of legs sticking out.

There was the bottom of my mother's green coat, and her bare legs, her feet in flat black shoes.

She seemed to be in there a long time.

What was she doing in there? What were all these adults doing that was so important that I was not allowed to do it as well or to even see it being done?

Looking at my mother there, from the back, at her legs and at that big curtained machine, I thought suddenly about The Wizard of Oz. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" But that was my mom behind the curtain now. The fumbling Wizard made himself into that scary, fire-drenched floating head! What would my mother do in there?

But it reminded me of something from Sunday School, too. Something about the temple of Solomon, and the place back in the temple, behind a curtain, where only the priests were allowed to go. Back where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

Eventually, the curtains parted with a ratcheting clang, and my mother was delivered back to this world and to me.

Ever since then, a numinous exhalation surrounds the act of voting and all its trappings for me.

I sit here in the wee hours of Election Day 2008. The day has finally arrived.

Later today, I will go to a local community center and take my place in line.

I hope it will be a long, long line. There is something wonderful about a long, long line when everyone is in that line for the same reason and when most of the people feel about voting the way I do. Any person who does not want to be there is welcome to get out of line and go home.

But no. The long line of like-minded folks endures.

Eventually I will reach the election judges behind their folding tables. The first one will give me a voter registration card to fill out with my name and address. Birthdate optional. The next one, looking at the card, will look me up in a big computer printout of my precinct. Or maybe on a computer. That happened last time, although the failure of some of these computerized voting rolls was a scandal in the elections 2 years ago. A third judge will write my information down on a big sheet, to show that I have, indeed, voted. He or she will also give me my ticket, a printed slip of paper that I exchange for the actual process of being ushered into a voting area.

Another election judge will be scanning the room for a place for me to actually vote, waiting for the next person to be done with the activity.

This year in Denver county, we are using paper ballots, because of various scandals and challenges resulting from the use of electronic voting machines two years ago.

So that will be a new wrinkle for me. . .and also a kind of hisoric echo, back to basics.

I'll stand there in nervous anticipation, the voting ticket clutched in my hand, watching the body language of the election judge, looking for someone to be done.

And then the moment comes.

I'll be led into some kind of array, some kind of alcove, some kind of place to actually cast my vote.

Let's draw the curtains right here. This activity is private and does not bear up to the light of day. Grab that big red handle, if you will, and sweep it from right to left.


The curtains are closed.

Sssh, quiet!

We're voting now.

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