It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. And just a few blocks from my home is one of the Early Voting sites in the city.
An American flag is drifting on its pole above the building, crisp against the perfect sky. In all my travels, I’d never noticed it before, though surely it has been there all along.
As I drive up to the small branch library, I spot several white sandwich signs painted in blue ink, signaling it as one of 18 designated Early Voting locations in this county.
The dozen parallel parking spots are full, save for one, waiting for me. I notice an elderly couple walking, arm-in-arm, slowly. The man is using a cane and assisted by the woman companion. They both look as if they are in their 70s. The man is grumbling as he tilts and lurches forward; the woman responds with a soft murmur of consolation.
A 20-something man with a tan, tight shorts and cotton shirt zips past. He looks straight ahead. We are all heading to the rear of the library. Early voters enter through the back door.
It occurs to me that the city probably keeps these small branch libraries afloat for occasions such as this. It has de-funded and shut down many libraries throughout this metropolis, cut staff and forced hiring freezes for years.
Around the rear, people are entering and leaving in couplets. The parking lot is stuffed with cars. A hippie-street person-vagrant-homeless man (I couldn’t tell which) with wiry blond beard and short hair wanders around just out of sight of the entrance. I half-expect him to ask for change and shoulder-up to deny him. Just then a tall black man exits the double doors and says: “Hello, how are you.” He is smiling. I take heart.
This neighborhood is mostly Trump country. I know without asking. Up the street, someone has a huge banner hanging from the eaves of their home. It’s emblazoned with the warning: “Protected by a Glock” in blood-red ink, accompanied by an image of a mean looking revolver. Big trucks with loud engines are everywhere. Home Depot is the busiest enterprise. Saturday nights are rowdy; Sunday mornings silent.
Here and there are small enclaves of Democrats. But this season, there are few testaments to political choice. Yard signs for the Libertarian are more profuse than for either major party candidate. I chalk it up to fear. The Hillary folks are afraid of some violent retaliation – stolen signs or defaced property. The Trumpsters are rightfully keeping their choice under wraps. After all, it’s one thing to assault women and minorities from the safety of an online account. It’s quite another to holler out a pejorative to your neighbor.
As an interesting side note: this city is a major resettlement point for refugees and asylees. I’ve worked with them at the local college. They are mostly smart, industrious and more thankful than most of us for the liberty of their new home. The younger ones learn our language, go to college, work a crappy job at Wal-Mart, and after five years as a Permanent Resident, become citizens with voting rights. We are home to Afghans, Bhutanese, Haitians, Burmese, Somalis, Albanians, Cambodians, Serbians, Iraqis, Iranians – and an untold number will be voting this year. We also have several generations of Cuban-Americans, Syrians and Lebanese, who undoubtedly have listened to the rhetoric of the GOP nominee with deep interest.
The waiting area has a line of about ten people. I stand behind a man in a polo shirt. In less than five minutes, the line behind me has expanded to the doors. I estimate there are 25 of us mingling in the rear foyer. One of the volunteers asks that we have our ID ready to quicken the process.
I tell Polo Shirt Man that the turnout is great. In reply, he tells me to beware of the Solar Power amendment. “Oh yes, it’s a scam,” I say. He replies with a question: “Why do we need an amendment to tell us we can use solar energy?” I respond with info on the utility spokesman with the open mic who declared that the amendment would fool people into thinking it was pro-solar when in fact, it was a ruse for the utility companies. He looks sideways at me. He repeats his rhetorical on the need for an amendment. “This country’s becoming communistic.”
Something turns in me. I recognize that anger, that generalized disdain for all things federal. I’m surprised. I took him for a fellow traveler.
“Well, I’ve been around awhile,” I say, “and there are some things about the government that are despicable but on the whole, it’s here for us.”
Before I finish, he jumps in with his “communistic” declaration, now raising his voice and saying “People need to wake up!” I stop listening.
I look at the woman behind me and comment on the turn out. She agrees. Then says a lot of people at her company aren’t voting. “But that’s a good thing,” she says. “Most of them don’t have a clue. They never read. They aren’t paying attention.” Is she also referring to Polo Shirt Man? She’s in casual office wear. Behind her make-up and hairspray, I see tired, blurry eyes after a morning in the office. It’s just 2pm.
The foyer of voters has a ragged look. There’s no way to spot-check the Republicans from the Democrats from the Independents. The room has a repressed aura. It dawns on me that the fear in the neighborhood has transferred to the voting booth. No one is declaring their allegiance. Enervating is the best description. It puts a dull cast on what is a glorious occasion for me.
I look them over: middle class, poor, aspiring, retired, men and women.
Just then the poll volunteer tells me it’s my turn. “Go to the back table.”
This is a small room with a brightly lit sweat box feel to it. No bigger than my kitchen. I estimate there are ten voters and seven poll workers. Tables arranged in a horse shoe with four women behind card tables at the rear checking IDs. The worker slides my drivers license through a machine, and asks if the info has changed in the past year. “No.” And just then, her co-worker blurts out: “A first time voter!” and the four women stop to applaud a 20-something woman standing next to me. I give her a personal “hurrah,” and turn back to the worker. She hands me my license, wrapped in cash register receipt type paper, points me to the next table.
I wait while another two poll workers help voters. I see the process is different this year. There is a semi computerized system of validating voters – but not the voters choices. I’m shown a print-out with all my data and the number 230. The poll worker compares that number with the number on my cash register receipt and then hands me my ballot.
Somehow, this validation of numbers is supposed to give me confidence. But as I stand in front of the archaic voting booth – a metal privacy shield on a wobbly wood table – I worry the same worry of 2008 and 2012. Are my ovals inside the lines? What happens is one is off the mark? Will they throw out my ballot? And I wish the same wish: Why can’t voters get a copy of their votes?
I see Hillary Clinton’s name. No other. As steadily as possible, I blacken the oval. The chained pen snags on something. Next, Patrick Murphy. The appeals court judges can stay – they extended voter registration. No on Solar. Yes on everything else. I’m almost done.
I feed my ballot into the machine. Stick the “I Voted” sticker to my lapel. As I leave, I see First Time Voter and congratulate her again. She looks at me quizzically.
Outside the double doors and I want to scream. I want to lock eyes with another of my ilk, squeeze her hand and dance all the way to my car.
I just helped elect Hillary Clinton as the first female President of the United States!
and now I wait.