As duly authorized citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave, Sandra and I set out this morning to cast our ballots. Election Day is a week away – November 6 – but because there are so many voters in America and so few voting facilities, most states have early-voting periods. Early voting spreads out the crowds, mitigating the overcrowding at the polling places. Furthermore, this is a great convenience to voters who might not be able to get time off from work on Election Day.
Republicans found out that minorities and other citizens who usually support the Democrats tend to vote early, so they have tried to curtail the practice. In Florida, for example, Republican Governor Rick Scott cut the early-voting period from 14 days to eight and eliminated the Sunday before the election, when black churches traditionally bused their congregations to the polls. (He also tried to impose intimidating restrictions on groups that register voters and purge as many Democrats as possible from the voter registration lists. But the courts stepped in and opposition to his most blatant attempts at suppression proved insurmountable.)
After the dust settled, early voting was allowed from October 27 to November 3. I suggested to Sandra that we wait until today to vote as people who have jobs might be more likely to head for the polls during the weekend. That way we would not have to stand in a long line, I argued.
Obviously, I did not take into account the voter enthusiasm in this hard-fought election.
When we arrived at Lakeland’s Larry Jackson Memorial Library, the line of waiting voters snaked out of the door and around the block. There were dozens of old white people – one or two in wheelchairs or pushing walkers – who were probably planning to vote for Mitt Romney or die trying. But I was heartened to see dozens of black people, too. Apparently they were determined to thwart Governor Scott’s plot to block them from voting to re-elect the president.
I had to drive several blocks to find a place to park. When Sandra and I joined the line, we were behind a grizzled white man, wearing a cap that said, “Charleston, South Carolina,” and his sturdy but docile-looking wife. She was clutching a scrap of paper with the voting instructions he had given her. (Sandra was next to her when she voted and sneaked a peek. I didn’t need to be told the wife dutifully voted for Romney-Ryan.)
The sun was shining but the temperature was in the sixties (Fahrenheit). A chill wind made Sandra pull her cardigan closer and grumble about the cold. I was wearing a turtle-neck sweater but I could feel a nip in the air. We shuffled slowly toward the library listening to a stout, gray-haired woman regale the couple ahead of us with details of her appendicitis operation and wondering why a baby boy toward the front of the line was crying and crying.
As we waited, the sun rose in the sky and Sandra complained that she was now too warm. I (unwisely) pointed out that she seemed hard to please.
We had been shuffling ahead for about an hour and a half and were now inside the library, when an old man ahead of us collapsed. There was an urgent flurry as people deserted the line and rushed to his aid. Apparently, they were trying to get him into a chair and we could hear voices urging the man to respond. Someone called 9-1-1, and in a while, we heard CPR instructions apparently coming from a tape recording.
A poll worker shepherded us into a detour back through the library doors and around to an exit, as the paramedics arrived to whisk the fallen man to an ambulance. (As Sandra noted with dismay, they bumped the stretcher quite alarmingly as they brushed by us, launching the patient several inches into the air).
Eventually, we were summoned to vote. We produced our driver’s licenses as usual, but this time we were told to scan them. Then the scanning machine displayed an ominous “voter’s oath” by which we declared on pain of perjury that we were indeed American citizens eligible to cast a ballot.
A tall, solemn (white) gent stood in a corner doing something on a smart phone. A tag identified him as a “poll watcher.” I guessed he was one of those Tea Party types who appointed themselves to watch over the polls and intervene if they spotted anything that looked like voter fraud. Apparently, this is another attempt at frightening away minorities who might re-elect the president. Republican legislatures have been busy enacting laws calling for new, hard-to-get forms of identification. And anonymous groups have erected scary billboards in minority neighborhoods as part of the intimidation crusade.
The ballot was long and tedious. We voted for Obama-Biden, of course, and dutifully filled in the little ovals next to the names of the other Democratic candidates. But they were pitifully few. No one opposed Republican Dennis Ross in our congressional district, for example. There was a Democrat with the unusual name of Stego Blue running for the state legislature and another named Ricky Shirah in the city commission races. But in the other local elections, we had to choose between Republicans and Independents. Apparently, this part of Central Florida is no place for Democrats.
We also had to vote to keep or dismiss about a dozen judges. (I looked them all up on the Internet and none turned out to be a child molester or anything like that so I gave them my nod.) And there were 12 proposed amendments to the state constitution, all submitted by the notoriously dysfunctional state legislature. Most were in an obscure legalese that made them totally unintelligible. So filling in the various ovals (I voted no for all but three of them) took a while.
Finally, it was time to submit our ballots. I had no trouble slipping my two pages into the appropriate machine. But for no apparent reason, the apparatus refused to accept Sandra’s. A poll worker came to her aid but the machine defied him, too. Then a supervisor showed up with a key to open the machine. That didn’t work.
In desperation, Sandra turned the ballot pages upside down and back-to-front. And the machine relented.
Our votes were finally cast.
Now we can only hope and pray they get counted.