Back in the B.C. (Before Computers) era, I remember my parents voting on machines set up in the gym at my elementary school. Mom and Dad had to sign in, then each step into a voting “booth,” and pull a curtain behind them so no one could see for whom they were casting their votes.
The ballot was a large board with candidates’ names placed next to small levers. Voters flipped down the lever next to their choice for each office. A distinctive “click” sound ensured their choice “took.” Pulling a handle on the right (think old slot machines) added one’s selections to others already cast on that machine and returned levers to original positions.
At the end of Election Day, the official poll workers (always at least one from each party) opened the backs of the machines and registered the collected votes. Those tabulations were then forwarded to the county election headquarters and added to other precincts. It was a pretty basic way to vote, and I don’t recall too many hassles with the machines.
Certainly not nearly as many as the number of hot messes reported throughout the state last week. Apparently, there are just a “few” bugs in the new voting system. To hear reports about issues voters had, those bugs were basically locusts devouring everything ballot-related in their path. (I wonder if those old booths are still around somewhere.)
The place where I voted was not beset by major problems, even without enough voting machines available. Once checked in, I was given a plastic card, inserted it in a touchscreen machine, then had a paper printout generated. The card was given back to a poll worker and the paper fed into what looked like a shredder but (hopefully) wasn’t. I really wasn’t sure if my touchscreen or paper ballot was being counted.
At least I actually got to vote. There were far too many tales of people who either had big-time issues with things like absentee ballots or long, long lines or machines that didn’t work properly. That doesn’t bode well for November.
With all that said, though, as I stood in line last Tuesday, it struck me that my little microcosm of a polling place would make a great primer on the resolve of Americans to not let anything keep us from exercising our right to cast secret ballots.
Needless to say, we’ve had turmoil for these last few months. A pandemic, an economic debacle, and protests around the country have combined to force us all to stay home, wear masks, do with less, and contemplate how we can make our society equal in every way for everyone. All good reasons to perhaps shun the ballot box. Especially when it rains, as was the case on Primary Day.
My precinct line was out the door, with everyone social distancing. Most were wearing masks. The skies above were dark gray, so many were armed with umbrellas. The queue moved just about as fast as the one outside a popular Disney ride. We stood and stood and stood, inching s-l-o-w-l-y up the next 6 feet.
But there actually were few discouraging words. One visual that really struck me, especially at this time, is that about half the people in line were African American and the other half Caucasian. Very peaceful gathering. Everybody was equally and efficiently casting their ballots for their chosen candidates. There was no politicking, no voice-raising, no sign-waving, no threat-making, no nothing. Just Americans doing one thing we do best — exercising our rights.
I think the point I’m really trying to make here is that it could have been VERY easy for anyone in that line to say, “Forget it.” From the time I arrived until I left, almost an hour had elapsed. It was steamy hot and it monsooned twice. But there were obviously many who thought as I did that it was not time wasted.
I couldn’t help but think how good it would be to show a video of my little slice of election Americana to, say, a billion Chinese people. With everything that’s been thrown at us since 2020 started, citizens in a free society still went out and stood in line, in inclement weather, because one of our greatest freedoms means a lot to us. You tried, Covid, but you failed. You tried, evildoers, but you also failed. I asked one poll worker how busy the place had been. She said, “Steady, all day.” And there was no let-up in sight. The line was longer when I left than when I arrived.
We will persevere.