Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Vote = Voice Of The Enthusiastic

On Election day I left early for work (6:55am) but when I arrived at the polls there was already a line and I knew I would have to postpone my voting if I wanted to make it to work on time. So the day wore on and the rain started coming down and by 4:30 it was absolutely pouring. I decided to leave a little early to get ahead start on the traffic—yeah, right. It took me an hour and fifteen minutes just to travel 20 miles.

I got out of my car and walked through three large puddles of water into the bright blue doors of the elementary school, down a hallway and into the voting area—the cafeteria. I can’t remember the last time I was in an elementary school but I have decided they all look the same. They have the same speckled hard tile floors and the same painted cinder-block walls. They have the same high ceilings made out of stuff I always thought looked like spaghetti that had been compressed and hardened. They have the same lunchroom tables with little round individual seats and “scenes of the season” artwork lining the walls.

I was suddenly in the third grade again and looking at my surroundings through the eyes of a nine-year-old and remembering the presidential election of 1980—Carter v. Reagan. I was struck by the similarities of this cafeteria and the cafeteria of 1980 in an elementary school in Hot Springs, Arkansas for there at the end of the room was the stage and they even had the same blue velvet curtains. There was a “Kid’s Vote” ballot box set up just like there had been when I was nine.

Mrs. Gill lined us up in the hallway to wait for our turn to walk up the creaky wooden steps and onto the stage where we could cast our ballot. I was anxious and fidgety in my excitement, not much different than I am today some 22 years later. My teacher had stressed secrecy and how important it was to freedom in voting, freedom to express our true opinions without fear of retribution. We were not to discuss our vote with each other.

I was wearing wine colored pinwale corduroy pants and a wine colored pinstripe shirt with a rounded white collar. My pants were new and my hands had turned magenta from the dye. I was worried the dye would rub off on the ballot—a piece of paper much like the “do you like me check yes or no” notes we used to pass in class. It had two boxes and the names Reagan and Carter next to them. I had put an X in the box next to Reagan because he was the candidate my parents had talked about the most.

As I walked up to the ballot box I became increasingly more nervous. What if they see the red dye on my paper and the red dye on my hands? Then my vote will no longer be a secret. Will I be the demise of freedom? I was a worrier even then. I folded my paper in half, then half again, again, and again until it was the size of a die. I dropped it in through the hole and moved on down and out to the playground for recess.

Later that day Mr. Holt, our principal, announced the winner to be Ronald Reagan. I sighed with relief thankful my red dye had not precluded democracy.

As I left the polls last night I couldn’t help but think how nice it would be if all of life’s issues were presented in the form of a ballot. You could simply step into a booth, press a button or two or even simply check yes or no and voila, problem solved.

Alas, life is a bit more messy than that.


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