It’s a rare rainy day here in San Diego. My polling place was right down the hill, at the big, brand new church, so any waiting could be done under shelter. There was a bustle of activity, but hardly a line when I got there at 9:00 am. The volunteers told me that it had been crazy busy when they’d first opened, what with people coming to vote before going to work, and that I had chosen a great time to come.
Growing up in New York, we used pull-lever machines to vote. In my grade school when I was a child it was an annual ritual to see the institutional-grey machines get wheeled into our cafeteria, and then the steady parade of adults who stepped behind the curtain to flip the small levers for their choices. Even the sound sticks with me: the definitive, mechanical noise of the main lever being brought home that simultaneously logged the votes and swung the curtain back open. We even got to pretend vote on them as part of our civics lessons. I’m told that the schools don’t teach about how government works anymore. Is that true? If not, what was so important that it took its place in the curriculum?
Four years ago, we used computer touch screens to vote. This year we are back to paper ballots, whether because of real issues with the computers, or because of perceived fears of nefarious schemes, or because there just aren’t enough of them to handle what is expected to be record voter turnout. But there is something basic about touching pen to paper to vote. Even though I’ve known who I was going to vote for for months there is still that moment of heaviness before making a mark, that moment when I remember the importance of what we do every November. I think of my great-aunt, who was part of the movement for Women’s Suffrage, and what her vote must have meant to her. I think of my husband, who came to this country as a teenager to start a better life, and who served in the US Air Force for 27 years. Every 4 years, for the past 232 years, we have had a peaceful transfer of power…. How amazing is that? It gets me every time I vote, that little lump of emotion in my throat.
After completing the very long ballot (we have 13 different initiatives on the ballot as well as candidates for president, congress, and various local positions) I replaced it in its sleeve and handed it to a volunteer, who shucks it with a practiced motion into the ballot box. Every time that I vote, it’s still a magic moment. But I miss the sound of that Jules-Verne-era lever from my childhood.
I can’t help the big smile on my face as I put on my “I Voted” sticker. The volunteer thanks me for voting. I thank her for being there, and she is surprised. Maybe no one thanks them?
When I returned home it briefly stopped raining. There was a rainbow in the distance.
Now I’ll go back to my office and try not to turn on the tv or radio until tonight, when we’ll be drinking either McCosmos or Obamatinis.