Friday, October 24, 2008

Duty Done

It has been thirty-six years since I cast my first ballot in an American presidential election. I remember going to the polls by myself after school. I was nervous and a little afraid I would mess up. After I voted, I remember feeling proud and, somehow, powerful. Despite a whole lot of ballots in between then and now, I had nearly the same experience today.

Today is not Election Day, but we have early voting in Florida. Certain polling places are open for two weeks before the election. I had the day off from work, so my Daughter Dear and her Wonderful Boyfriend and I went to the polls together. It was rainy today, which made me think there might not be many people voting. The rain stopped about a half an hour before we arrived. I was surprised to see a long line of people waiting, many with ponchos and umbrellas.

It took about a half an hour for the line to snake its way along the sidewalk to the front door of the library. We moved slowly, but at a very steady (almost somber) pace. Once inside, there were more than thirty people ahead of me. Voters sat in rows of plastic chairs waiting for our turn to go to the front of the room and receive our ballots. The poll-workers were professional, courteous and amazingly efficient.

All in all it took more than an hour for us to vote. And it is still more than a week before Election Day! I am thrilled at the prospect of a big turnout. I think everyone should vote. I know I skipped voting for a few years, and at the time I felt as though I had a good reason. I am older and wiser, and I have more stake in America. It is a privilege to vote. It is also a duty. I was delighted to see so many people doing their duty today.

Even after 36 years of voting, the whole process is exciting to me, and I was still nervous that I would mess up my ballot and have to go ask for another one. I love the ritual of voting. The whole process is almost liturgical, at least the way they conduct the early voting here. I waited fifteen or twenty minutes for my turn to receive my ballot. While I waited (patiently, for once) I watched other people go up to the front of the room, get their ballots and then go to the voting booths.

I spent my waiting time watching my fellow Americans. There were old people, which is to be expected. Older people have always been the most regular and reliable voters. This is Florida: old people rule. Some of them looked very prosperous; many, however, were clearly not so well off. Some moved with alacrity. Most moved more slowly. Many used canes.

While we waited, several people voted who required various kinds of assistance. The poll-workers appeared to be helpful and patient. (I have seen situations in the past when that was not the case.) In the short time we were there, a blind person was assisted by a poll-worker, a woman who looked as though she were undergoing chemotherapy (and who required support in walking and standing) was also helped by a poll-worker and a person who was either deaf or did not speak English was assisted by her companion.

There were a lot of foreign-looking people in the crowd as well: Indians and other "brown" people in particular, but not as many Spanish people as I would have expected.

The crowd voting today was at least half black and an unbelievable percentage was young people, both white and black. DD and WBF saw a bunch of students from their college and several teachers from the college as well as a couple of teachers from their high school.

A lot of husbands and wives voted together. One very young couple had a tiny baby in a pumpkin seat. (That brought back memories of me trying to get DD's stroller inside the voting booth.) There were several openly gay couples.

Few people talked, and those that did spoke in hushed voices. What we were doing was no joking matter. We The People were doing Something Very Important, and We The People were taking it Very Seriously. There was power flowing through that room that was almost palpable.

Regardless of which candidates are elected (from the president of the U.S. down to the representatives for the local water conservation district -- the latter of which may have more of a direct impact on my life), I wish the candidates well and I appreciate their willingness to serve our country.

Our country may be a mess. Our federal system may resemble a Rube Goldberg contraption more than any kind of sensible government. There is a lot of work to be done, but,
I am pleased and proud to have the opportunity to participate in the electoral process.

I was proud beyond words to be there as DD and WBF cast their first votes. I'm proud of both of them for taking their civic responsibility seriously.

In my family, we've done our part. Now, all we can do is hope and pray that the rest of America will do the same.

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