A friend of mine wrote yesterday that “my eyes actually water over when I vote” when he described his experience voting in New York. Where apparently they still use levers? Woah. Anyway. I know the intense feeling that can accompany casting a ballot.
I’ve had an affinity for elections since I was a small child that some people just don’t seem to understand. Even my politically active friends don’t have the fervor, the deep love, for elections that I do. I follow even primary results tensely poised in my seat, refreshing six different websites at once and idly wishing I had television. Even though the election system is profoundly broken, there’s still something magical and mystical in it for me. I still throw election parties where arguments are held over gesticulated wineglasses.
I think my love affair with the electoral process began as a small child in Caspar, where the polling place happened to be our house. I remember every major election since 1989, when we moved back to the United States, and a fair number of the minor ones, too. We actually had two polling places, one across the street in the WInd and Weather building, and we used to sponser contests between the two to see who could get the biggest turnout. The winner got a pie which was split among the poll workers.
At our house, we would set up the polling booths the night before, and I loved how they came in steel briefcases like James Bond would carry. We would get sealed boxes of ballots and a big black box to stick them in after people had voted, and a stack of styluses to punch the ballots with. We would line everything up the night before, waiting for the list of registered voters and the poll workers in the morning. Invariably, I would take the day off from school so that I could hang out at the polling place all day.
I’m sure we broke numerous election laws, especially when we cooked a giant pot of pasta with sauce every election at around 5:00 for all the poll workers. Anyone who happened to come in to vote could sit down and join us, and we started to notice a peak in voter turnout around the dinner hour after a few years. Hopefully none of the voters noticed the gently waving tablecloth where we hid the bottles of wine we weren’t supposed to be drinking.
By 6:00, everyone would be filled with goodwill from the wine that had been consumed, and wasn’t bothering to jacket the ballots in the envelopes that were supposed to keep the contents secret. The few Republicans would skulk in and the poll worker checking them off would shout:
“OH! You’re a REPUBLICAN! Hey, Jim, Jane here needs a REPUBLICAN BALLOT. REPUBLICAN!”
At the end of the night, the black box would be locked and stuck in someone’s car to be driven over to Ukiah, where it would arrive around 10:30, usually. We would take the rest of the ballots out back and run them through a bandsaw, not so much because we needed to but because it was fun. Apparently we were supposed to return the unused ballots to the County Clerk but we usually burned them instead, especially in the fall elections when it got chilly at night.
I spent my entire childhood fervently wishing I could vote, and longing to sneak a voted ballot into the big black box. I’m not really sure what stopped me, other than a naive faith in the Democratic system which even my pessimistic father couldn’t dispel. I moved away to college before I was eligible to vote, and my father moved while I was gone, so I was never actually able to vote in my house, a source of great sadness to me.
I still remember the first election I was able to vote in, living in Fort Bragg, and one of the last when a punchcard ballot would be used in Mendocino County. I remember the immense sense of satisfaction as I poked the stylus through carefully, making sure that there was no hanging chad. I tore off the receipt and brought it to the ballot box with a giant smirk on my face, eager for my “I Voted” sticker.
In the last few years, I have voted absentee, at first because the Mendocino County Clerk switched the balloting for my area over to absentee and later in San Francisco because I liked the convenience, and the ability to dismiss last minute campaign ads with “oh, I already voted.” There’s something missing in my life now that I can’t go to a polling place and punch a ballot in the old fashioned way, and it saddens me. My hard on for elections just can’t be satisfied by filling in lines on an absentee ballot.
I still think voting is sexy. Some day, I know, Nerve is going to have a photo contest that involves voting and I’m going to take the prize, with angular hipsters covered in “I Voted” stickers sprawled in a pile of ballots at the foot of a polling booth. Hang my chad, baby.