Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Really, it shouldn’t be this difficult to vote

Time to vent...

Being a commuter to the Hub for as long as I have, I learned to work my life around things you just have to do at home. Like vote. So it is a joy that the polling places open at 7 a.m. and stay open until 8 p.m. so that people like me can wedge it into a day already full of 8 hours of work and 2 hours of commuting. You’d think that would be fairly straightforward, no?

Not in Beverly.

I opted to vote at 7 a.m. because I teach spinning at 7 p.m. and I didn’t want to run the risk of the commuter rail not delivering me back to Beverly in a timely fashion to get me to both a potentially crowded polling place and to my class. So I was there when the voting location opened. At 7:00 on the dot, I had 24 minutes to go in, vote, and drive 2 miles to the train to make a 7:24 train. Again, fairly straightforward, right?

I’m not sure how things work in other cities in other parts of the country, but in Beverly, the people running the polls are all retirees. Ordinarily I’d say they love what they do, it gets them out of the house for a while and they are efficient.

Not in Beverly. Not on Super Tuesday. Not yesterday.

I walk up to the “check in” table, and there are two workers sitting there, one with a book of registered voters, sorted alphabetically by street from A to some midpoint in the alphabet (let’s say J), and another worker with a similar book with streets starting with letters from K-Z.

An elderly woman is in front of me, checking in. She must have been Undeclared, and in the state of Massachusetts, for primary purposes, you have to declare for the day. No, check that, you have to declare for the approximately 15 seconds it’s going to take you to pick a ballot, walk to the booth, vote and walk out. Elderly Woman is baffled that she is Undeclared, and is being forced to pick. “What are my choices?” she asks.

I am starting to simmer. Are you kidding me? What are your choices? How the hell have you done this for the last, oh, SEVENTY YEARS?

So the polling folks walk her through the list of possible parties she can belong to for the next 15 seconds. I think to myself that this isn’t going to be engraved on her tombstone, just get her out the door. She finally screams “YES” to the polling person when they reach “Working Party” as a possible choice. I don’t know about you, but I follow politics and I don’t know the damndest thing about the Working Party, but all of a sudden, Mrs. “What Are My Choices” is now a member. Ok, then she picks up the “Pink Ballot” to vote Republican (probably because it was a nicer shade of pink than the Democratic baby blue, and there were, as you know, no Working Party ballots) and off she goes. Phew. It’s 7:06. I’m still good.

I’m up next. The female poll worker (with the A-J book) looked up at me and said “What street?” I said, “Summer” and she starts flipping through her book, looking for Summer. Then she starts lamenting that “we didn’t have time to put the tabs on yet...” referring to the tabs on the edge of the pages that could get you to a section of the book faster. Rather than going Then, right there, she starts putting the tabs on. As if that’s an ok thing to do with (now) three people standing to check in. I realize she is keeper of the A-J street book, so I step to the male poll worker and tell him my street: Summer (trying to hurry this along) and he says “That’s her...” pointing to the tab-less wonder I just purposely overlooked. I said “No, Summer is you, that’s an S.” I can understand that not using the alphabet every day, you might be tempted to forget what letter falls where in the overall alphabetical universe, so I am not surprised when he asks again, “Summer?” and I said “Yes....” And he said “What number?” and then I hear “Three” from behind me.

Three? And I turn and look and there is a guy who lives up the street from me. Now trying to push to the front of the line (of three). I politely say “NO, actually it’s EIGHT.” Poll guy scans down to number eight Summer and asks my name. I tell him and he says I’m not registered. I clearly see my name and point to it to expedite this already painful process (although for a moment I ponder the thought that I could come back later and just point to any name without a checkmark next to it and vote in their place, but I don't have time to linger and file that lack-of-ID-at-voting-places argument away for later). He asks me which way I’m going to go party-wise, I assert Democrat, he marks it, I take the blue ballot and move on. 7:12. There’s still time.

I get to the little voting nook and I savor the moment. I’ve been waiting to do this, so I take the time to scan the list, find my candidate and carefully fill in the circle to the right of his name. Then I see that there are four or five other positions on the ballot being voted for. I look at my watch, 7:14, no time...gotta run.

I turn and head toward what appears to me to be a check-out table. “Where’d you check in?” they ask and I point to Alphabetically Challenged and Tab-less back by the door. “You have to check out over there,” and they point to the other side of the room. Clearly. So here I go again, back to two more retirees with their tab-less books of streets sorted alphabetically, and I steel myself for more confusion. I walk up to the male who I see has the book for “L-Z” at the ready. I say “Summer Street” and he asks, “what number?” And I hear, again, “THREE” from behind me.

HELL? (ok, not really “hell” but this is a family-friendly blog)

And I turn and look at the neighbor who I barely know and I say “No, he’s asking ME, not YOU. I am just trying to get out of here to get on my damn train.” Apparently, I raised my voice because the female worker looks at me and says, “There’s no reason to panic...(long pause)...although the weather is quite bad and it’ll be a tough drive through all this traffic.”

Really, you think? Thanks for the enlightenment. Speechless, I look at my watch…7:16.

I turn back to poll guy and I have to point again at my name because it appears to him that I’m not registered (although I made it this far through the stringent check-in process already!) and then I stand there. There’s no tally box in sight and I’m holding my ballot.

“Where does this go?” I ask.

And both poll workers turn and point to a box that is easily, 50 paces from the check out. Is that safe? Is that logical? Whatever, time is a-wasting.

I run my ballot through the slot and check the counter. Just to make sure it registered. And the counter goes from 0002 to 0003. I look at my watch. 7:18 and I’m only the third person to make it through the Beverly Electoral Obstacle Course. That, my friends, is just ludicrous. But I am certain that with crowds it would have only gotten worse (although the tabs on the street listing books might have sped the process up a bit), so I am glad I had it done before the work day.

And I made my train. Just.

In retrospect, I really believe the Iraqis had it easier in their recent, first free elections. Walk in, vote, dip your thumb in indelible blue ink, move along. I’m sure they got in and out in under 18 minutes. No tabs and no alphabetical knowledge required.


Mark Freedman said...

I think it just gets worse every year. In my optimum wisdom, I scheduled a user group meeting for Super Tuesday, so I couldn't vote after work. I had a deployment at 7:00 AM, so I couldn't vote right before work, so I figured I'd take advantage of the 6:00 AM opening here in New York.

So Lorri and I get there right as the polls open, and the closest friendly 126 year-old looks up at us and says, "Sorry, but the machines are all down. Some guy is coming by with a key, or he may just kick the machine to get it going again like last time. You can wait, or come back later, or use an emergency ballot."

"Great. I can only do this now, so I'll do the emergency ballot. The name is Freedman, Mark. Democrat."

"Let's see... ah, there it is."

She closes the book.

She hands me a Republican ballot.

"No, Democrat."

She looks confused. Or 126. I think the look is the same. I plan on living to at least 150, but I don't intend on obtaining THAT look.

"The other ballot, please."

"Do we have those here? Ah, yes, here it is."

"And what do I do with it after I fill it out?"

"I think we have an envelope or something. Yes, here's one."

I fill it out. I seal it in the envelope. I hand it to her. She looks 126 again.

"Don't you need to put it somewhere to make sure it's counted?"

"Oh, yes, I think there's a big envelope somewhere here. Oh, here it is."

She places it in the larger envelope, and puts it on the table. She puts some other papers on top of it. Then the book I still haven't signed on top of that. I'm sure it will never be found again, much less counted.

"Um, I still need to sign the book."

"You don't need to sign."


Then a young 110 year-old says to my 126 year-old friend, "Yes, he needs to sign."

"He does?"

"Doesn't anyone train the people who work here?"

I finally sign, praying the race isn't decided by one vote.

Lorri decides to come back later, after the machines are "kicked".

And they're worried about computerized voting?

amybatt said...

Excellent, Mark. Bring on the electronic (internet-based, of course) voting!