Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Dropping my marble in the jar

Seattle had a special ballot today, to renew two levy packages supporting our public school district. So I stopped by my polling place on the way home and filled out my bubbles, in the affirmative for those who care. Perhaps when I become a property-tax-paying citizen in March, I will feel differently...but in the meantime, who am I to deny the little children their crayons and abrasive paper towels and asbestos-protection jumpsuits and whatnot?

Nearly everyone I know now votes by absentee ballot, through the mail. I did so myself in college, which at the time consisted of poking out chads with the provided Punching Tool. This was, if memory serves, a bent paper clip that also conveniently sandwiched ballot and voter's pamphlet together in the envelope. Dukakis in '88!

And of course there's talk of elections and referrendums being decided entirely online, in the near future; I'll be able to cast my vote with my feet up, defending democracy without having to tear my eyes from an "ER" rerun, should I so desire.

But I'll miss the polling place. There's something to be said for standing in line with your fellow citizens, juggling dripping umbrellas and registration cards in the junior-high library or the church basement (which smelled like every Girl Scout meeting I ever attended, firing a neurological event unchanged for 25 years). Going to the polls is the literal expression of "voting with your feet." It feels more like a civic duty, when you have to sign the register on the line a polite senior citizen has carefully hemmed in with a strip of tagboard.

I currently vote in an elementary-school gymnasium. I dig it, determining the fate of my community and, periodically, my nation, in a room with hula hoops and jump ropes hanging from the walls. The building smells like varnish and chalk and hot lunch. Occasionally, there's a bake sale, Tupperware tubs of cookies and brownies and crooked squares of sheet cake for a quarter. Once, at the end of the table I spotted a box of Twinkies. It was clear that someone's harried mother had driven to the Albertson's at 8:49 that morning, muttering
for crying out loud do they think I'm Fannie Farmer? and maybe next time you could tell me sooner that you need 56 vanilla cupcakes like I don't have enough to do; get that look off your face, you'll take these in and like 'em! The Twinkies had sold well.

I take it pretty seriously, I suppose. Though I've always been disappointed that there were never any curtains, no levers to pull, here in the Pacific Northwest. Our voting booths are some weird love child of an easel and a plastic patio chair. If there were actual levers, political choices chunking mechanically into place at my command? Imagine how I'd love that.

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