Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

Not to brag, but it only took me about 10 minutes to vote. But only because I lucked out.

First, I have a sinus infection that descended on me fairly quickly yesterday. (That's not the lucky part.) As a result, I slept fitfully, waking up every two hours like clockwork (unable to breathe and coughing -- that's not the luck part, either). So when I woke up at 6:00, I just stayed up. (That's the lucky part -- accidentally waking up early.)

Second, I had a doctor's appointment this morning at 10:00 -- a five-minute visit with my podiatrist to confirm that the orthotics I got a month ago were free from defects.

So, between being up earlier than usual and not having to be anywhere until later than usual, I thought this might be my opportunity to go vote early.

Unfortunately, being sick(ish), it took me longer to get ready than usual, so it wasn't until nearly 8:30 that I was ready to go. I walked the one block to our polling place, and the line coming out of the door went for about a quarter of a block. Figuring that I had about 45 minutes at most before I had to leave for the doctor's office, I decided I should wait until later.

After I got out of the doctor's office, I went back home and checked the polling place again -- virtually no line now. I walked in the door at 10:35, and I walked out again at 10:42.

For those of you not in the Bay Area, let me describe the process, just as background for what I want to say later:

At our polling place, you are greeted by three people. One finds your name on their first list and has you sign your name. The second confirms your address with their second list and then writes down the hour during which you showed up. The third hands you your ballots (there is only one electronic voting booth at our polling site, as opposed to about ten booths for manually marking paper ballots) and a "Privacy Sleeve" to hold your completed ballots in until you feed the ballot box. Specifically, the polling place for our neighborhood is in the lobby of an old folks' home, so it's not unusual while waiting to vote for you to see caregivers helping little old ladies adjust their underwear (yes, I saw that once today).

Also, there are two kinds of propositions on our ballots. State propositions are numbered, whereas City propositions are assigned letters. So Prop 8 is a State of California proposition, while Prop H is a City of San Francisco proposition. Today, we have Props 1 through 12 plus A through V (the closest I've ever seen the city come to running out of alphabet). We have a total of 34 propositions, plus School Board, Community College Board, State Assembly and several other local elected officials. So we have three very long ballots (one for people, one for numbered props and one for lettered props) printed on both front and back.

The volunteers at the polling place were extra-vigilant today. The woman in line in front of me had brought the Bay Guardian's endorsement mailer with her, and a volunteer told her to put it out of sight. She looked shocked and said, "Are you telling me that I can't have this with me?" He said, "You can have that with you. You just can't carry it out in the open. Hide it."

Behind me in line was a rather scraggly looking man. While Volunteer #2 was checking my address, Volunteer #1 asked him his name. I won't actually swear that he scratched his crotch as he answered, but what he said was "Uh, yeah. I wanna vote for Barack Obama. Whadda I gotta do?"

Entertaining on the one hand, but encouraging from another point of view: This must have been his first time voting, either the first time in a very long time or the first time ever in his life.

Then, more evidence of first-time voting. As I was marking my ballots, it became obvious that the two young men (early to mid-20s) were friends who had come to vote together. What made it obvious was the way in which they started discussing the ballots and the propositions.

"Prop 8 is the gay marriage one, right?"


"We're supposed to vote 'No' on that one, right?"


The volunteer (the same one who made the woman put away the Bay Guardian mailer) came over to them.

"Guys. You can't talk out loud about anything being voted on."

"Oh. Sorry."

Again, it has its own entertainment value, but it also seems to indicate voters who don't have a lot of experience in the polling place.

As I was feeding my ballots into the electronic ballot box (kind of like feeding a really big dollar bill into a change machine), a little old man came shuffling into the lobby and shouted, "Everybody needs to vote the same way as I did. I'm not telling you how to vote, and I'm telling you how I voted, but I'm telling you that everybody has to vote the same way as me." Then he chuckled to himself and shuffled out onto the sidewalk for a cigarette.

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