Where Everybody Knows Me

The hatred to which this election has given voice would have been enough –

The nonsense, the vitriol, the lies  would have been enough –

The negation of civic rights and duties would have been enough –

enough for me to say that this is the most traumatic election in which I’ve voted. But then, it got worse: I went to vote.

I do not live in a swing state. There are no contested races on my ballot. No one protested my right to vote, no one shoved a pamphlet in my face, no one even tried to poll me about my potential vote. No, I faced no threat from people who oppose me, my views, or my right to vote. Instead, I faced the Board of Elections.

As usual on an election day, I voted with multiple districts in one polling station. As usual, I know my poll workers and they know me. I made a beeline to my district’s table and encountered the first  surprise of the day – there was a line. I’ve never had to wait before, but it was great – it gave us compatriots, in our orderly line, a chance to chat. Then, things got back on track. I greeted my poll worker, gave her a bag of candy, and she welcomed me by name. She wondered where I’d been all morning; I explained that I’d tried to come during a lull since I figured it would be busy early on. She smiled in appreciation, telling me that this was busier than the last presidential elections. She handed over my paper ballot, I filled it out in a private booth, was directed to a scanner, and slide in my ballot.

That’s when my problems started. The Board of Elections’ scanner spit out my ballot, insisting it couldn’t read it. The Board of Elections’ poll worker manning the scanners came over and started to inspect my rejected ballot,  candidate by candidate.

“It’s a secret ballot,” I informed him with a glare. He looked at my in surprise and then shoved the ballot at me.

“I was only trying to help,” he said while backing away. “It’s a secret ballot,” he muttered to himself as he left me with my ballot and a machine that had rejected it.

Without any other options, or assistance from the people responsible for ensuring my vote counted, I gave my ballot back to the machine. This time it ate my ballot. A different staffer, a first-time poll worker, decided to fix the problem. First, she shooed me and my questions away. Then she tried prying off the top of the ballot-tray to break into the machine and get my ballot back. Her supervisor caught sight of what was going on and stopped her before she ruined the machine – if a vote scanner is tampered with it shuts down the entire operation. Instead, they called over the poll worker who was trained to deal with this exact issue. She, in turn, gathered a Republican poll worker, Democrat poll worker, and a police officer. With all of them present and watching, she released my ballot and all four of them inspected it. It was interesting enough that a fifth poll worker wandered over and joined them.

“Is there a problem?” I asked. They didn’t notice me.

IS THERE A PROBLEM WITH MY BALLOT?”I asked, this time at a louder volume. The officer looked at me in surprise, and the held up my supposedly secret ballot – no longer a secret to those five.

“Is this yours?” She asked. None of them had realized that the person whose ballot they were reading was still present and interested in having her vote counted. This wasn’t their fault – but they were ill prepared to handle the situation.

I confirmed it was my ballot. The poll workers sent me back to my beloved district table, told me to tell them to spoil the old ballot and hand me a new one. My trusty poll workers gave me a second ballot without question when I gave her a folder with the original. Again, I filled out my ballot. Again, I approached the scanning machines. But by this time, they knew me. They had me skip the line for the scanner, since I’d already voted – albeit without having my vote counted. They directed me to the formerly jammed machine. I put in my ballot. It spit it back out as unreadable. With a poll worker standing at each shoulder, I wondered out loud if maybe I should try another machine. No, they told me, vote again – here and now. I did. This time, I clocked in as voter #533.

I high-fived my poll workers, and they high-fived me. Because no matter how traumatic the election season is, friends cheer for friends who vote.

UPDATE: The Board of Elections spent the day directing technicians around the city to fix broken machinery.

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