Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The act of voting

We each took one girl with us yesterday, the lovely husband and E going together in the morning, and L serving as my button-pusher just before the polls closed. (Mr. G has gone in the past, but he’s at a tricky age where he’s too active to stay in the stroller or too stay calmly by my side of his own free will for any length of time short of me holding him. And he’s now 39 pounds. I don’t really want to hold him in any activity where the lines may stretch for hours. He’ll go again next year, probably.) Except-- ‘button-pusher’ is a misnomer, isn’t it? There are no buttons in voting anymore, at least not in Maryland.

I grew up in western New York, and the voting booths of my New York 1980s childhood were, first of all, actual booths. Not unlike a telephone booth, one entered a small enclosed space. With the strong pull of a mechanical lever, a curtain, nearly floor-length, closed the world out behind you. I almost never set foot in a church as a child** but in visiting churches later, confessional booths always reminded me of my first experience with narrow quiet spaces: voting booths. I think the correlation is apt. The act of voting has a sacred quality, and the vote you affirm is a private covenant.

The curtain was thick, industrial, and I remember it as the fabric equivalent of that light metallic blue that all playground equipment of the same decade was painted. Once inside, you found yourself facing a wall of tiny angled levers. My brother called them baby toilet handles, once, and they depressed in that same assured way, purposeful and deliberate. With a satisfying click you registered your selection.

I loved the sound, the ancient aura, the satisfaction of mechanically displacing that small object. It can best be compared with typing on a mechanical typewriter, I told the girls, but even those are only objects of TV prop departments and folklore. They’ve never actually seen one, never enjoyed the assertive clicks beneath their fingers.

Maryland’s voting machines are touch-screen tablets propped up on folding tables with plastic dividers for a modicum of privacy. It works, too, but the grandeur of the experience is gone. The curtain is pulled back forever. But: I’m still glad the girls went.

And: now there are stickers.
**As a Jewish kid, I had very few reasons to find myself in a church. My dad, though, taught at a Catholic school and we were in a chapel once for some reason that I assume was related to a career milestone. Wait, you know what? It’s NaBloPoMo. I’m going to save this story to tell you tomorrow.

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