Another Election Day is gone, but its memory lingers. I worked the polls for 20 years at Arlington’s Thrifton precinct and dreaded it every year.
I knew it would be a hellaciously long day, since it required a 5 a.m. arrival (for opening at 6 a.m.,) and we didn’t usually finish closing the machines and totaling the results until 8:30 or 9 p.m.
I’d like to say I originally volunteered because it was my civic duty. Not so. My school-teacher daughter talked me into it. If you have kids, you know the dialogue: “Oh, come on, Mom. It’ll be fun! And we’ll do it TOGETHER.” (That “together” word gets us parents every time.)
Long after she had retired from her poll duties to raise kids, I kept at it. So why keep working? The short answer: it was inspiring. As I struggled to describe the experience to a friend recently, she supplied just the right word. And I realized it was like going to church, only we could talk!
As I watched my neighbors come to the polls at various times of the day, in various stages on the aging continuum, I loved it.
I saw my favorite World War II veteran, Jimmy Golden, limp in to cast his ballot. Before the big day, I had offered out-of-polls voting to him through his wife, allowing him to stay in their car to vote. After consulting him, Liz said “no” on his behalf. It seems that Jimmy, a former German prisoner of war, thought it IMPORTANT that he march in (however slowly) to vote for the candidate of his choice.
I saw young moms with their kids in strollers, studying their sample ballots, and other parents taking their older children with them into the booth so their kids could learn the nuts and bolts of democracy.
Another year, a young woman newcomer to our country asked me to use her phone to take a picture of her outside the booth so she could show her parents that she had cast her first American ballot.
Yet another year, a neighbor who knew my history of working the polls called beforehand to inquire about a less busy time of the day for them to vote. This would prevent her husband from standing long on his leg cast.
In my Old School past, we were all urged to vote NO MATTER HOW. Let’s hope we Americans return to that attitude. Meanwhile, I wore my I VOTED sticker with pride.
Reach Carol McEwen at firstname.lastname@example.org.