The first time I voted was fall of 1972, the first year 18-year olds were permitted to exercise our right. If young men could die in Viet Nam, they should be able to vote. Of course, I was a vote for McGovern, and the stakes were high. It seemed that the worst thing that could happen was Nixon for another 4 years, and there was a pit in my stomach when that election was called. I can still see me sitting in the lounge at the Howard Johnson’s on Route 104 in Oswego, NY, watching the t.v. over the bar, as Nixon waved and departed the White House 2 years later
Somehow, there has been dread and fear connected to many of the presidential elections I have experienced since. Although I was too young to understand, I did feel the impact of Barry Goldwater’s fear campaign, the tension of Kennedy’s rising to the presidency, then the loss of him. The adults were affected and invested, so it was natural that there was a ripple in the air that I felt during election years.
Jimmy Carter’s victory was a refreshing relief. Then Reagan came in and back to the pit in my stomach. Bush/Gore was a national challenge. Waiting out the election of Barack Obama brought tears of relief and profound joy, that this nation had accomplished that. But to then witness the ugliness that resulted, and the reprehensible behaviors of members of Congress who not only blocked him at every opportunity, but who still wield the power today has been infuriating. I have often felt helpless, mixed with outrage. I vent much of it on Twitter. If I were a pressure cooker, that is the little steam release knob.
Ever since I started voting, I have missed only one election. Before that first election, my birth father gave me sage advice: he told me that it is a privilege to vote, but that our votes in the presidential elections were not as important as in local and state elections, where our power in the booth truly has power. I took that to heart and each primary, midterm, and presidential election, before COVID, I have done my part, exercised my right proudly. In this summer’s primary, I voted by mail, not wanting to stand in lines during the pandemic.
This year, I debated voting by mail versus going to the polls at my local library 2 blocks away. I have voted there since the late 1980s. I walk in and the poll workers say, “Here’s the poet.” My neighbors volunteer their time to support the process, and I am always grateful for that. I miss the sound of the little brass levers clicking into place, the rasp of the chain that opened and closed the curtain, the thud of the handle to secure my privacy as I made my choices. It felt like hallowed ground.
During my college years, we had to fight for the right to register locally, since we were seen as transient, and not worthy of or entitled to vote there. But that was my home. I was independent and, thus, I was insistent, as were a lot of us.
So many people voted early in the past few weeks, standing in line for an hour or more, up to 1,000 citizens an hour in my county. That was encouraging and admirable, but in the face of the virus, seemed counterproductive. So I waited. I decided that I wanted to support my poll workers in return by going in person, safely, and to demonstrate that their choice to give their day to the process was not in vain. I also figured that so many people will have voted by today that I would likely encounter shorter lines, if any.
I usually vote midmorning, after the wave of folks who vote on the way to work. Today, I had no line at all. I realize it has always been just a matter of walking to the library, that I have tremendous privilege to live where I am able to walk up to the booth with no wait. It took little for me to claim my opportunity. Others face so much to do the same, yet they do it, they persevere and insist. I am grateful for each of them, and appreciate the sacrifice voting is for so many. I praise everyone who has ever sacrificed through injury or loss of life to earn and preserve this right for us all. I take this quite seriously, and recognize that this ease I experience is a gift.
This election day is filled with darkness and fear. The media are full of spite and bile. It has seemed like everything about our democracy has been on the line for the last 5 years, since the previous presidential election. That outcome was enough of a sucker punch. It is going to be a long week. But it was important to me to be among those who cast their votes today, counted this evening. On the noon news, they are saying the county polls are receiving record numbers of voters. The pit in my stomach is still there. It is going to be a long week ahead.
I woke a bit early to bake lavender corn muffins for the poll workers, which I delivered with a jar of lemon curd. I wanted to do more than just say thank you this year. Their service throughout the day was a greater service. I headed out the door and got as far as Westcott Street before I remembered I forgot my mask. I do not leave the house or yard often. It is still an afterthought. I walked back and grabbed the mask I keep by the front door for when I answer a knock.
As I walked in the door in the back corner of the library, Nancy looked up and said, “Hi Georgia, I can still see it is you behind the mask. Are you here to vote? Please sign in…