My wife, Sandra (photo at right), and I have added our two votes’ worth to history in the making. For days we had worried that our votes would not be counted, that we would be turned away because our picture ID did not match our voter’s registration. We wondered if our names had been purged from the rolls under Florida’s “perfect match” law. I noticed that my driver’s license had “George Wilmot Graham,” and my voter’s registration card had “George Graham.” Not a perfect match! I searched the Internet, trying to find a list of voters in Polk County, Florida, so I could make sure my name was still there – but no luck. However, I managed to find a list of early voting sites and saw that a library near our home was included. So, to end the unbearable suspense, we decided to vote early.
“Early Voting Here” signs ushered us into the library parking lot, which was jammed. But as destiny would have it, a minivan pulled out just as we pulled in and we had a parking space. A line spilled out of the library and snaked along the sidewalk beyond the shadow of the canopy and into the bright sunshine. We rummaged for our voter’s registration cards and driver’s licenses and had them at the ready as we waited.
The line (similar to the one pictured at right) edged slowly forward as we chatted with a lady who lives not far from us. We talked about this and that but not what was really on my mind. I was desperately curious about whom she would vote for but I bit my tongue. I felt it would be rude to pry. I didn’t think I needed to ask how the majority of the people at the library would vote. They were overwhelmingly African-American and I concluded this would be an Obama crowd. To my surprise, however, I noticed a sticker on a van, full of African-American voters, that proclaimed “Soy Republicano.” Hispanic? McCain supporters? Or Obama supporters getting a ride to the polling place from a Hispanic McCain supporter? I would never know.
Finally, after an hour or so, we arrived at the end of the line. As there had been outside the library, there were volunteers ready to answer our questions and guide us in the voting process. Sandra was summoned first, but it wasn’t long before I, too, was in a short line in front of a table manned by poll workers.
The lady in charge of my line said “Next,” as the man in front of me walked away clutching his ballot. I handed her my driver’s license and voter’s registration card, but she waved them away pointing to a small machine that looked a lot like those ATM doohickies they have at stores. You would think that by now, I would know how to swipe, but this time I messed up. I guess my swipe was too tentative. With an indulgent smile, the poll worker took my driver’s license from me and swiped it more masterfully. An image appeared on the little screen showing my name and address and asking me if it was correct. I took a pen attached to the machine and punched the “Yes” box. The lady handed me a long sheet of paper with typing on both sides. On page one, a message informed me that I was to fill out both sides. The lady handed me a pencil and told me I was supposed to fill in the blank ovals next to the names I wanted to vote for.
Armed with this information, I scurried over to a tiny cubicle and started penciling in the little ovals. I was very, very careful to fill in the entire oval and not go over the line. I did not want to take a chance on spoiling my ballot and I know (from the Florida fiasco that ruined the 2000 elections) how picky computers can be. I filled in the Obama-Biden oval, of course. There were also several local positions to be filled, about which I didn’t know that much. But I forged ahead, voting for the Democrat, whenever I saw one. For one county seat, there was no Democrat, just a Republican and a space to write in another name if I wanted. I thought briefly about writing in the name of my dog, Maxi, but in an abundance of caution, resisted the urge. I left that oval blank. However, after filling in all the ovals I was responsible for – voting against a constitutional ban on gay marriage, re-electing a bunch of judges I had never heard of, and voting “no” on a variety of incomprehensible county-charter amendments – I wondered whether my ballot would be disqualified if I left anything blank, so I forced myself to pencil in the oval next to the Republican county commission candidate. I read and re-read the ballot, making sure all the ovals were perfectly filled in and that I had not (horrors!) carelessly voted for McCain-Palin. Then I took it over, still in its blue folder, to a machine guarded by an imposing looking gentleman with the gravitas appropriate to his position. He pointed to a slot at the top of the machine and I stuck the tip of the ballot into it. The machine greedily swallowed the sheet of paper as I held the blue folder just so. No way was I going to risk ruining my vote at this late stage. After the ballot disappeared, a lady next to the imposing gentleman took my pencil and folder and handed me a sticker, which I attached to the lapel of my coat.
I exited the library and stood in the sunshine waiting for Sandra, who apparently was being even more careful. She joined me within minutes, brandishing her sticker, her brow furrowed. “I filled in the space next to Barack Obama so hard that I may have gone over the line,” she worried. “Do you think I should ask if I can do it over?” But I didn’t think a little thing like that would spoil such an important vote, and she finally conceded I could be right.
Sandra looked at the sticker attached to the tip of her finger. “It says, ‘I voted early,’ ” she declared happily. “I’ll have to keep this. It’s a historic souvenir.”