Tuesday, March 9, 2004

I Voted Today!

I was supposed to leave work early to go vote – under the labor contract I’m on, we’re allowed to leave an hour early on Election Day. But things got crazy so I didn’t get out until about ten minutes before my usual time. But the traffic was light, it was a nice sunny afternoon, and so I drove with the top down and the radio blasting. I pulled into the polling station – a local firehouse – and parked behind another Mustang convertible. There were no campaign workers to be seen; I guess they figured there was no need.

I asked the lady who checked my voter registration card if they’d been busy, and she said no. I looked around. There were more poll inspectors than voters, and a table over on the side behind one of the waiting fire trucks was laden with boxes from Dunkin’ Donuts and KFC. At least they were comfortable.

The polling attendant showed me to one of the new touch-screen machines and asked if I’d used one before. I replied yes – in the 2002 election. He booted it up with his little ID box and asked if I wanted to vote in English, Spanish, or Kreyol (Haitian Creole). For a second I wondered what difference it would make, but then I remembered there was a charter amendment to be voted on as well, so I defaulted to English. He said, “Thanks for voting!” and left me to it.

The screen came up in large letters with simple instructions. The first page offered the Democratic slate. All of the original Democratic field from last summer was there with the ironic exception of Florida’s own Bob Graham. As I looked down the list, I had a little flashback on each one: Carol Moseley Braun and her smile, Dennis Kucinich and his earnest goofiness, Al Sharpton and his applause-getting lines, even Joe Lieberman and his Dad-from-“ALF” whine. All of these candidates were out of the race – their fifteen minutes up – but here they were again as a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of people who were once with them and were now learning to accept the fact that someone they perhaps had worked against would now lead them, united by one common cause – the defeat of George W. Bush.

My fingers hovered over the screen, the buttons in bright yellow pixels on the side, clearly marked so there could be no mistake. For a second I glanced at the names again. The nomination is sealed, I thought. There’s no point in voting for anyone else but the inevitable. But then I remembered that in some way, I had to acknowledge that this election was more about voting for the most electable – it was my chance to say that in spite of the fact that the party’s candidates have been chosen and the race is already in full battle, there are those who believe that we can make the statement to them – or at least gently remind them – that we came to the voting booth ready to put our hearts into it as well as our heads. And I also remembered the brief friendship of a young man who once told me that things may be rough now, but they’ll get better. So I touched the screen and voted for Charley’s brother. A big red checkmark popped up.

I quickly went to the next screen for the charter amendment, then hit “Review.” I could still change my votes. But I made no changes. The VOTE button flashed red, I punched it, and it was over. The poll attendant gave me a little “I Voted Today!” sticker, and I walked back out into the sunshine.