My polling place is the gymnasium of the local elementary school. Most election days (actually, every election day that I've been there for), I shuffle up to the little old ladies behind the table, smile, show my ID, and sign the paper. I vote, and I'm out in 5 minutes.
This morning, with a desire to be on time to work and expecting a short line, I woke up and got to the polling place at 6:40 AM. What I saw was shocking.
The line stretched from the table, around the gym, behind the voting machines, and out the door. Only four voting machines graced the hardwood floor.
I later found out that there were about 80 people who voted before I did.
So, at 6:40 in the morning, ten minutes after the polls open, I'm standing in the cool morning air, chatting up a neighbor I'd never met.
For a while, we just talked. In Ohio, nearly anything you say can be picked up by an election worker and declared "campaigning" if they really want to call it that, and then you get fined and all sorts of other fun things, so she and I just talked about how we were both unsure what was going on, and whether we'd watch the coverage tonight.
We talked a bit about Issue 1, the poorly-named "gay marriage amendment", and about the weird way it was worded (this particular amendment could be interpreted to mean that women can't have maternity leave), and about how unsure she was about it. I made the comment that a constitutional amendment should never be ambiguous.
We moved on to talking about the election itself. We never said who we were voting for: it was all, "Well, I've made up my mind," and "I think that the guy I'm voting for understands me better." It was pleasant, and she smiled when I told her that last year I changed my mind in the booth, and she smiled, saying, "What about this year?"
I replied that I wasn't in the booth yet.
We talked a bit more as we shuffled forward. Now we were standing directly behind two voting machines, the power-cords under my feet. My neighbor said that she would be watching the election coverage tonight. I told her I didn't plan on that. "I'll just wake up and look out the window. If I see troop transports, I'll know Kerry won." She laughed.
At this time, one of the polling ladies came over in a tizzy. She was making excited motions toward my feet and trying to say something, but she couldn't quite get it out.
Finally, she managed, "If you trip over those wires, and they come out, we'll lose all the votes on the machine, and we can't turn them back on!"
So what I learned today at the polling place is this: if you want to sabotage the Franklin County Board of Elections, just unplug the machines.
I asked her if she would tape them down, or at least re-route the line so that it didn't go behind all four machines. No, she said, they can't do that. She gave me some mumbled excuse, and I went to the poll judge.
"Can you please tape the cords down?"
"We don't have any tape. And people shouldn't step on them."
I was puzzled. "Can we re-route the line, then?"
"Because we don't have anywhere else to put people."
I went back to the line, and told my neighbor what I'd been told. The story started spreading down the line. "Votes aren't retrievable?" I heard one person ask. "Do we get to come back and vote again if that happens?" I heard another ask.
The noise level in the room was going up, but everyone was being very, very careful of the power-cords. Finally, someone with some sense ran out for some duct tape and brought it back. The cords were finally taped down, and with the tape, the voices subsided.
By now, I'd turned the first corner. I'd been here for 30 minutes, and was 1/4 of the way through the line.
On the wall were the issues. I read through them quietly, checking the numbers against what I'd pay, figuring them up quietly in my head. On asked for $250 per year from me for schools. One wanted me to ban smoking in public places. One demanded that I pay nearly $300/year for new roads. One asked for $5/year to help out the Columbus Zoo. Some of these issues were reasonable, and some were not. I re-evaluated my choices, and changed some of my opinions.
This morning, I was noting to fred_smith the number of elections and issues that were on my ballot. I think I came up with something in the high thirties. There was a lot of reading to be done.
As I was chatting with other people in the line, we got to talking about the number of machines in our polling place. Four seemed a bit low. I joked that the richer districts probably had more, as they were more likely to go Republican, and it was all a sham to make us too disgruntled to vote. I was slightly flabbergasted that I was right when I got to work and asked around.
We shuffled forward a bit more. While sitting on the floor, I saw one elderly woman collapse. She was fine, but a bit shaken. She had probably been in line for an hour at that point, if she had gotten there before 6:30, and I think she just couldn't take it anymore. She was moved immediately to the front of the line, and while none of us begrudged her quick method to the booth, we still laughed and joked that maybe we should try the same route. Several people put the backs of their hands to their foreheads and pretended to faint. We got a good laugh out of that.
Around the corner we went, and I handed my neighbor a book to read. It was Ellwood's Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America. I'm hoping she learned something about Neo-Paganism.
I, on the other hand, began to read aloud from the Principia Discordia. Over the next 20 minutes, we ended up about to the last quarter of the line, and several people who had nothing better to do were educated about Eris. It was quite nice.
Finally, we got to the front of the line. At this point, someone walked into the center of the gym and announced that several of us were likely to be in the wrong place. There was another school, right next door, that had voting, too, and we needed to check out registration. I was fortunate to be in the right place, but at least 30 people behind me were not.
The things they grumbled as they walked past me are not fit for children to hear.
I was told that I could go check in, and so I walked to the table. My name was found, and I signed. I was given my card, and put in line to vote.
That's when Tina finally arrived. I told her how long the line was, and she went and merrily got in line.
I got into my booth, and began voting. I made some last minute decisions and changes, as I'm prone to do, and even flip-flopped on a few issues. But I'm confident that my vote was right and was the best I could do.
I left a few blank. I don't like the idea of guessing when it comes to politics, because you can end up screwing yourself quite badly if you aren't careful.
I'm quite happy to say that I didn't vote a straight ticket. I like to think myself more intelligent than that.
I slipped out, got my sticker, and ran off to work, thirty minutes late.
I've never stood in line so long to simply exercise a right, but when it's my right to vote, I'd have stood there all day, if I had to. The final time was one hour, twenty minutes.
Get out and vote.