“Hijinks. There’s a useful word.”
— richard ford, “sorry for your trouble”
I can still remember the first time I voted as if it were yesterday. This is only because I can’t remember yesterday at all. Something about all my troubles seeming so far away.
I set out to vote for Kennedy, because he was young, like me, and I figured it would give me a shot, however slight, at dating his daughter Caroline, who was only a year younger than me. I was only 4 years old at the time, but Texas was pretty lax on the age limits for driving and getting into bars and voting back then. This was the LBJ era. The guy lifted his beagle by his ears. What more do you need to know?
I stood proudly in line to cast my vote, mesmerized by the voting booths and the signs and the gravity of the event. The voting machine was a couple of feet too high for me to see it, but I figured I had a 50-50 chance at picking my preferred candidate in any given race. I was hooked.
I have voted in person in every election since. I love the ritual, that feeling of pride as we take part in this grand experiment we call democracy. Although we now call it a lot of other things as well.
Over the years, I have voted in a little Texas town, then a big Texas city, then a big metro area in Arizona, back to a smallish Texas city, and now back in the land of the saguaro. Amid all the changes in my life, one thing has always been a constant — I’ve never missed a chance to step into the voting booth.
Voting is the electoral equivalent of eating Cracker Jacks, an enjoyable experience with a bonus tucked inside. You go there, you vote, you get a sticker for a prize. This allows you to strut around all day giving the Stink Eye to co-workers who are sticker-less. This, of course, was back when we had “co-workers.” Those were simpler times.
I don’t know when absentee and mail-in ballots started around here; I was never interested, adamant about voting in person. Hijinks, you know. Until this year.
I will be working on Election Day, the victim of some rule that says journalists have to work on big news days. And they’re saying that between the crazy big turnout and cleaning voting stations between each voter this year, the wait could be longer than the Seinfeld guys waiting for a table at the Chinese restaurant. I fear getting in line first thing and still not making it to the front in time to get to work.
So I did it.
I got my ballot in the mail today.
Downside: No magic of going to the polling place down the street, no wading through the suspicious poll watchers on the fringes, no elderly women going through the sheets and sheets of names, no stepping into the little booth to decide the fate of the nation.
Upside: Mo pretty much seized my ballot and told me who to vote for. She had thoroughly researched the candidates, totally eschewing my usual selection process of “Who has a short name that will fit easily in a headline.” Mo has weird priorities. But it meant I didn’t have to think much. Thinking is overrated.
And that was that. My sticker came with my ballot. My vote will go in the little box at city hall on Monday because we got there too late today. They close at 4:00? Did I vote on that?
In my head, I know it’s the right thing. If I get the virus I’m a goner, and voting in person feels like Virus Central. But in my heart, it won’t be the same. I suppose times change and you have to change with them. But I’ll miss the little guy standing at the door handing me that I Voted sticker.
Voting hijinks? Who knows. I fear how easily technology can be manipulated and the alarm bells already being sounded over intrusions. But I suppose at some point you have to trust the system, believe in Camelot, look to the future. Believe in something. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I voted. Viva Neil Diamond. Viva Caroline.
And viva democracy.