mardi, novembre 02, 2004

Suffrage at Six Forty Five

This morning, at six o'clock, I stared at a dark ceiling waiting for the appointed time. My daughter, having come in at five, was next to me, my wife was next to her. I allowed my eyes to close again, and before I knew it, it was 6:40.

I rose. I put on the same clothes I wore yesterday. I had an abbreviated toilet - I did not brush my teeth, I ran a comb through my hair, but did not do it well - and made my way out, into a not light and not dark pre-sunrise morning dappled by drops of light rain. I wore the grey liner from my new green jacket, and stood under the protection of a blue and white golf umbrella - given to me by my brother in law. I realized right away that I forgot my glasses, but ventured forth. I realized later that I had no watch, rare for me.

I walked west along our gravel driveway, then north one half block and east one half block and joined the line of people waiting to enter St. Timothy's Lutheran Church. The landscape was alive with colorful wet leaves and umbrellas, most of them black, but a few with patterns or logos. There was the smell of autumn, of coffee and of smoke from a far away cigarette. There was the pleasant jingle of a dog's collar and the percussive tapping of rain on my umbrella. Folks were silent for the most part. I speculated that it was fatigue, or because there's not much to say at the polls really. It would be wrong to proselytize. I wondered if the silence was not owing to a reverence we hold for this right - or if it was because regime change is solemn work.

To pass the time, I tried to guess how people would vote. None were obvious, but some gave better clues than others: the stern man with a crew cut spiking out from his camouflage cap with the matching jacket, the sturdy woman with the "lesbian by choice" tee shirt. Ultimately, I decided that shoes were the best clue but that no clues were completely reliable.

At seven, the doors came open. A sign reading "Ramsey County, Vote Here" was placed on the sidewalk - absurd in light of the queue, a lot like a sign in front of McDonald's saying "burgers here." A small flag was placed just beside the entry door, and it immediately began to sag under the weight of the light, but persistent, rainfall. It fell once, and a man picked it up. The line moved slowly, and after what seemed to be an hour, I made my way to the front door. As I looked behind me, voters spanned the length of the block.

Inside, the sound of shaking umbrellas and the shuffling feet of a line that snaked left, then forward, then left, then u-turned right, then over, then down, then into a room where we lined up by last name. A-H, I-M, N-T, U-Z. I entered I-M. I worked my way to the front. I said my name and spelled it. I verified my address and presented my identification. I received a blue ticket then waited in a modest line to exchange it for a ballot. My neighbors, Matt and Deb were there. They're voting for Kerry. Their yard sign says as much. My neighbor Barb was there; I have no clue how she will vote. I received a ballot and a privacy shield, then waited behind two people for my turn at the modern voter's booth, a plastic table with plastic shields around it. No curtain.

I voted for President. I voted for Congress. I voted for the State House of Representatives. I voted for Soil and Water Conservation Managers (though I probably shouldn't have). I voted for the judges I knew. I checked my work, and then I placed my ballot in its sheath, fed it into a hungry and grabby machine, returned the sheath to the sheath bursar, collected my red sticker and alighted from that exalted place where rights are exercised and prayers are sent forth, to go back into the rain, against the quiet queue, west one block, then south one half block, then east along our gravel drive to home.