Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Civic Duty

"I'll take the next five," the poll worker said. She was young, Asian American and was wearing a blue sweatshirt and jeans.

My wife and I had arrived at the polls at a local elementary school around 10:10 Tuesday morning. We thought that it would be better to go that time of day than earlier or later in the day. The morning rush hour would be done by then and the lunchtime rush would not have started.

Reports of long lines at polling places were posted on the local all-news radio station's Internet site, so we allowed at least 90 minutes to vote. My wife even took a book to read in case there were long lines.

It took all of 10 minutes.

There was a short line in the school. It was a diverse group - a mother with three children, one of whom was intent on playing paddleball. Her mother kept saying "stop that sweetheart, it's not appropriate." The woman's two sons were immersed in their Nintedo DS games. Another person was a Sikh man in a burgundy turban, with a black moustache with flecks of white in it. He strode into line and seemed very purposeful in his walk. Another heavy-set, pale woman wore a blue bandanna on her head. Whether it was to represent the Democratic Party blue or not I don't know. She was very pale, the kind of pallor that people undergoing chemotherapy have.

The polls themselves were in the school library. Colorful kites made to look like sailing ships, and fishes, and dragons hung from the ceiling. The room was crowded with workers and voters. A bank of computers for the school children divided the room. On the floor in blue tape was the word "VOTE" with an arrow made from the same tape on the carpet. A blue line separated those waiting to vote from those voting. A sign next to the door said "Positive Attitudes Only Beyond This Point."

The registrar sat just inside the door. A volunteer directed us to the first station. In Virginia we have to use our driver's license and the poll workers matched me to my name in the registration.

"Okay, thank you, now step over there," she said. She handed me a yellow card that said "Voter" on it. I handed that to another woman at another table who took the yellow card, inserted a plastic card with a computer chip into a reader, and typed some numbers on a computer. She handed me the computer card and said to step over to another line. In less than one minute, a man said "right here sir," as he directed me to the electronic voting machine.

The act of voting was simple. No hanging chads, no marks to make. It wasn't as complicated as withdrawing cash from an automated teller machine.

"Does this machine give you a receipt of your vote?" I asked the poll worker.

"No, just put the card in the yellow slot and make sure you push it all the way in. It will show you how you voted before you leave," he answered. I put the card in the yellow slot marked "VOTE" in black letters. The screen came up with all the candidates for President, Vice President, Senator (in Virginia we are electing a senator to replace the retiring John Warner) and Representative. I made my choices, hit a button that said "Next" on the screen, and the machine showed me my choices. I looked them over and hit the Next button again. The screen then said "PLEASE WAIT WHILE YOUR VOTE IS REGISTERED."

It took just a few seconds and it was over.

The magnetic card ejected from the machine, I handed it to a poll worker who placed it in a small plastic basket and gave me a sticker that said "I voted."
And that was it.

After more than two years of campaigning, interminable calls and e-mails from both Democrats and Republicans, discussions at work about who would be the nominee(s) and all the wrangling. After Interstate 66 was jammed for miles the night before the election as people crowded to my local fairgrounds by the thousands to see Barack Obama; after an election day call from John McCain's campaign urging people to get out and vote, it was over.

My wife immigrated to the United States from Germany and became a naturalized citizen in 1988. Her first election was Bill Clinton against George H.W. Bush in 1992. She has voted in every election since. She told me that not being able to vote made getting the right to vote that much more important, because she has a say in how the country goes. Now we both wait to see if doing our civic duty has made a difference.

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