Going to the polling station always makes me happy. The obvious reasons are the same as everyone else’s: I am happy to live in a democracy where individuals really do choose their leaders. The less obvious reasons are:
- No voter ID required. Americans, as a whole, are a trusting bunch. I didn’t know that until I lived a couple other places. But we tend to give the benefit of the doubt in most situations. There is no more dramatic evidence of this than the fact that no one checks our ID at the Massachusetts polls. I am always stunned by that fact. I keep expecting the situation to change (and am aware of the Voter ID legislation in other states) and am very pleased that it has not.
- The poll officials. It’s always the same crew at our local precinct. The average age of the workers must be about 70. There is the registration table guy in the same blue cardigan who mans the “Street Names M-Z” book, and his counterpart in a worn gray suit jacket and wide pastel-colored tie (Street Names A-L). They both take their jobs seriously, proudly sporting “Poll Official” stickers on their chests. They both fumble with the check-in books–I always find my name quicker than they do, even reading upside down. (But then again, having worked in sales, I read upside down way better than I should.) Across the way, my two favorite workers are the ladies who check voters out. They are thin, spry ladies with hairdos that surely turned heads somewhere around 1952. They always look me in the eye, smile, and “Elsa” (the one with the Patti Page bob) usually comments favorably on my accessories. Last year, at a local election, she noticed my dark blue scarf and we got into a discussion of the historically indigo-based economy in Toulouse. This week she noticed my pink plaid rain boots, and told me about other boots she had seen that day and admired. Somehow having these elderly volunteers run the show makes the whole set-up more important and trustworthy. These cats really know what they are doing and they have seen it all.
- Street Names. It’s so quaint to be organized by the street where you live.
- The food table. There is always a nice spread of doughnuts, coffee, and other baked goods laid on for the workers. I know they probably provide it themselves, but I secretly hope that they have a fan club of voters who bring them homemade treats. (Note to self–do that next time.)
- Voting at the elementary school. For a kid, there is no better evidence of democracy in action that to have your school day disrupted (no gym class) by those old-fashioned polling booths, and to see a steady stream of your friends’ parents and your own neighbors coming in to have their say.
- Spying on my neighbors. I check out who has already voted before me (aided and abetted by that Street Names organization), what their previously unknown birthnames are (two doors down, the man I always call Skip votes under the name “Mason”), and their political affiliations. “Anne’s a Republican? Man did I call that one wrong.”
- Local election poll monitoring. We live in pretty activist town, where override votes and school committee races can inspire hot emotions and extremely impressive volunteer machines. In recent years, proponents of various causes have taken to sitting next to the registration table with a book identical to the official one. As each voter registers, the poll worker calls out their name a little louder so that the volunteer sitting nearby can simultaneously register the voter. After they have enough data, the volunteers amass a a real-time telephone campaign to “bring out the vote” for the people who are known to be supporters, but haven’t yet shown up.
It’s totally sappy but as I drive to the polls thinking about schedules, and emails I owe, and ridiculous things like Excel spread sheets, I get out of my car, start to remember the importance of this small citizen act, and find my pulse slow and my mood lift when I walk into the gym. Sometimes I even wear that little red, white, and blue “I voted” sticker all day.