St. Louis, Missouri, Central West End
6 a.m. and I’m at my polling place (I think!). It’s the 2nd Presbyterian church just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from my home. I’ve voted there for the last five years and have gotten used to it. In 2008 we were packed in switch-back lines in the parking lot waiting for the doors to open. We were there long enough to make new friends.
This morning there’s only a modest crowd waiting outside the church. We troop downstairs to wait for the check-in tables to go active. Out of this crowd a community emerges. There’s my friend Maris and her husband Steve! We wave.
Steve turns, smiles, says: “Maris told me about hearing you and Alice play your violins the other day. Did you serve beer and popcorn?”
Janet: “Oh, Steve, not for such a high-class affair as our recital! We wore our black dresses. Maris brought each of us curly stalk of Lucky Bamboo. She was our photographer, press secretary, and the best audience anyone could wish for.”
Maris: “And we had hors d’oeuvres–hold the popcorn.” Alice is teaching Maris French, so of course she pronounced it right. Usually I side-step and say, “appetizers.”
I’m standing behind a handsome young black man with a deep voice. Maris says, “If you want to know about music, you should talk to Tom. He’s a singing waiter.”
Janet: “A bass?”
Tom: “I used to be a lyric baritone. I studied music in college. But, I’ve lost so much.”
Janet: “I can tell from your speaking voice that you’d still be a powerful singer. Alice and I are like that too. We haven’t played in decades. We’re trying to get back to where we were years ago.”
Tom: “Music is for sharing.”
Tom checks in and goes off to cast his vote. The first poll worker looks at my election card, and says, “You’re in precinct 11. Since the census, they’ve moved your polling place to the library.”
I’m a bit in shock. I was so sure I knew where to vote that I never followed up on all those admonitions to Know Your Polling Place! I recover enough to race over to the library–another hop-skip-and-a-jump. Another small hoop to jump through.
6:20 a.m. The library itself is still closed, but the special events room is open for the business of the day: voting. This place, like the other, is staffed by efficient volunteers. A young blonde man roams down the line. Precinct 11? Over here. Paper ballots are faster than electronics.
I turn to the man behind me, “It’s just like in the grocery store: Paper or plastic.” He enjoys my little joke, and we step forward to collect our paper ballets. The woman checking me off the roster finds my name in a big binder. I initial and sign. Then, I’m not sure quite what to do.
“Where do I go now?” I suppose it’s obvious, but I’m so anxious about doing everything right and not forfeiting my vote, that I feel like a school child. “Over there,” she waves.
Okay. There’s an empty station. It’s not like the voting booths I remember from the early days of my voting life. Those were curtained off metal booths. With these you sit down, and mark your ballot with a pen (make sure you fill the oval in completely!). It feels like taking a test. And, maybe it is. A test for all of us. For our right, privilege and obligation to vote. Here our privacy is protected by cardboard wings.
I whip out my sample ballot and hop to it. The top of the ticket is easy. But the judges, constitutional amendment, and propositions required tricky research and guidance from better-informed friends. Without my sample ballot, I’d be there for days.
Now, for the last step. There’s a cardboard protector you can put over your ballot to feed it into the machine. But, I just line mine up next to the slot. I look towards the volunteer monitoring the ballot box. “Like this?”
“Either way is fine,” he assures me, and smiles.
On my way out the door I see a friend from my health club. “See you at Zumba?”
Sure. For now back home to eat, shower, and change into my exercise togs. I’ve voted. Anything else I do today is gravy.
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