Early Morning Vote
Early Morning Vote.
March 8, 2016. Up at dawn with David so that we can vote. After coffee, we drive down into the village of Empire. It’s nearly full light as we pull in front of the clapboard town hall with its wide cement porch and double doors graced with a sign announcing the vote. We always come early so we can get to work on time. Once we arrived so early that we heard the designated town crier open the doors, step onto the porch, and holler, “Hear ye, hear ye, the polls are now open.” It seemed like a patriotic joke until I learned it was required—then it seemed a grand tradition. As we climb the steps, some of our young friends, recently of legal age, are leaving the building, their “I voted” stickers on irreverent places on their persons. Will, Laura, and Nick rule the world in their youth, and we smile warmly. They too are headed off to work. I ask Nick how he’s doing, newly working construction here in the village, and he tells me he’s learning a lot. I know the man he’s working for, a brilliant builder, and I think “Yes, in the trades, that’s the person to learn from.” Will and Laura, locals wintering here with various part-time jobs, will both head to Alaska for research jobs in environmental data collecting once spring arrives for real. We part, head into the building, warmed by their youth, their plain working beauty, their action. Being near them makes me feel more awake. I don’t see any other voters, and when I slip my ballot into the machine, I am only the seventh voter. But it’s still early.
I voted for the first time with an absentee ballot in 1972 when I was studying in England on a junior year abroad. My mother sent it to me from the U.S. and I filled it out and returned it via slow mail—I’m not sure it arrived in time. My voting habits were irregular through my twenties. My father was insistent, even when I didn’t agree with his politics, so I always voted in the presidential races, but midterms? Until I married David, I never voted in the primaries but he watched politics so closely that I became more aware of how this strange and often confusing system worked. And I voted. In the 20 plus years we have been married, we vote every chance we get, often waking early to get to the polls before work. I don’t say this to self-aggrandize; it’s nothing to brag about. It’s simply who we are now, even in this flawed and sometimes corrupt system. The vote is the vote. One small step. Old school, I know, but for me, as real as it gets.
Inside the town hall, the east windows draw in the March light. It’s a big room for a small village, so there’s plenty of room and the process is well ordered. The first lady at the table asks for my Driver’s License, and I struggle to pull it out, but she waits patiently. I often wonder how hard this process would be if I didn’t have a DL; and how tough these white-haired clerks get if you’re a newly registered voter. Or a person of color. They’ve always been warmly and universally efficient.
Once I have proven who I am, I fill out the registration slip, and then move on to the woman who gives us the ballot. We slip behind small wooden carrels set on tables, make our marks, slip the ballots into the sleeves, and then step out to hand them to the man who helps line up the ballot so it sticks out like a paper tongue, and I slip it to the slit in the machine and the machine grabs and pull the sleeve and now it’s safely in the ballot box. I imagine these sheets stacked inside this darkness that keeps them safe. About eight minutes after we arrive, we are back out in the fresh morning air. I am grateful for the chance to vote quickly and easily. I’m grateful for the peace of this small working class village on the lake. I remember lines I have stood in, particularly in Grand Rapids in the 70’s, Chicago in the early 80’s, and again in the 90’s. I know the impatience and the challenge it can be to stand in that line, to be late for class or work or appointments, and I know the temptation to give up. I understand why people would give up. I know many young people who have given up. I have given up.
My husband David teaches AP statistics, and he has explained voting theory to me—and it’s fascinating. Before he taught me about it, I did not know our system is one of many ways to “elect,” and it may not be the most perfect, but we have married the one-person, one vote strategy to the two-party system. For now, I respect and participate because it’s what we have. Most of all, I respect the people who stay and hold their places in line, waiting even when they are challenged, even when it is not easy. So when I hear people, young people or otherwise, say it’s not worth voting, I’m not mad, but I do become so sad. I wish they did not have to assume the cynicism of the world at so young an age. I wish that they could take on this one small and yes, perhaps inadequate power and use it. Because it’s an accumulative numerical system—as my husband would say. It gives a real chance for those without much money to make a difference in an expensive system.And if we all vote, it counts for a lot of vital numbers. And today, we saw them, the young friends we admire. At least three. They were at the town hall just at full light, and they came and they participated in this system that is so much better and more real than not having one. Then they stuck their stickers on their hats and pants, and went to work. It may be simplistic, but I feel a blast of pride in them for practicing this civic duty that is so critical in these days of upheaval. They have not given up.