I was just a number.
That number was seven hundred and forty-five to be exact.
I stood in the
I was also not like them. I was number 745 for advance voting. But I was also the only white male in the African-American audience at that early hour of the day. Scarcely a person paid me any attention as I crossed the open floor and ascended the bleachers to sit and wait for my number to be called.
If this was advance voting, I mused, then election day will be chaos.
But the scene was far from chaotic. As I perched on the backless benches, I asked what number we had reached. The answer came quickly from a petite woman calling up to the stands,
“If your number is from 85 to 115, please form a line down here”, gesturing to the top row of the bleachers. She then disappeared around a wall. I stared at my near three quarters of a thousand number and then at my watch. This would require patience.
A ring of my cell phone alerted me to a call from Citizen Prime. She was on the north side and also seeking to perform her patriotic duty (no, not paying more taxes). I told her about my number and we collectively groaned. It was likely that our respective votes would cancel each other out, but the effort was required.
The morning dragged on and soon figures were visible on the far side of the gym. They carried in box after box of potato chips, granola bars and cases of water. One by one, the waiting voters walked across the vacant gym and retrieved a bag or two of chips and a water. An enterprising little girl, no more than five years old, made several trips across the floor delivering her bounty to a variety of people seated in the bleachers. Finally, her mother was called to vote and, lifting her daughter on high, ended her first job as a waitress.
The mood in the gym was electric. These were people on a mission. They were poised to deliver their opinion in the action of their vote. A woman back and to my left had the lucky number of 999. There was no way she would be deterred from her duty. Asking my seatmates if they would like some water or chips, I made my own trek to the oasis of Frito-Lay. Upon turning about, I was stunned to note that the population of the gym had seemingly doubled in the last two hours.
I climbed back to my perch, continuing to exchange pleasantries with my seatmates, an older woman, a well dressed young man and a dapper lady in a rhinestone banded fedora who proclaimed herself to be 57, although she looked ten years younger.
We never traded names. Each person was content to clutch their secret prayer, as if en route to the wailing wall. They were eager to cast it into the electronic ether and await the deity’s answer.
At long last, around 1:30pm, my set of numbers was called. Obediently, I lined up and presented by credentials to the poll worker. Why people complain about picture IDs is beyond me. There was no one in that hall who didn’t have one form of acceptable ID. After our initial vetting, we were ushered into the halls of the senior / recreation center.
I was greeted with the sight of rooms of seniors, talking and waiting for various services – flu shots, financial counseling and a voting. The staff moved smoothly among the eldest and exhibited quiet respect for people who had likely stood on the front lines of the battle to secure the civil and voting rights for the bulk of citizens here today. One older gentleman sat directly across from the entryway and looked each of us in the eye. His navy blue ball cap proclaimed “World War II” veteran.
He looked each of us over as if weighing our worth to cast a ballot. I felt a moment of utter transparency as I passed in front of his gaze. I acknowledged his service with a brief nod. I could sense that he expected me to carry out my task with seriousness and reverence for the actions of all those before me.
I arrived at the terminal where my registration was verified and accepted the small yellow card which was my key to vote. I stood next to one of my seat mates, number 736. As I approached, I could see over his shoulder that he had selected Senator Obama. He was a young, earnest man – about thirty. Married, he had taken this day to vote – Tuesday’s were his days off and he wanted to insure his choice was counted.
Smiling, I stepped up to the touchscreen display. The ballot was full. President, congress, senators, a host of judges and a variety of funding initiatives for various purposes, all stared at me in LCD illumination. I consider myself well informed. But I confess, some of the names and slots were mysterious.
Most disappointing to me were the number of unopposed seats for various positions. My personal nemesis, Congressman John Lewis, sat unchallenged on the screen. In an act of sheer frustration, I wrote in my own name to oppose him.
At last I touched the green CAST YOUR BALLOT square. With a sharp click, the yellow card popped out of the machine. It was a far less satisfying sound than the sliding lever pulling back the curtains surrounding voting machines of yore. Machines I only saw with my mother as she dragged me along to vote in
Now I walked out into the sunlight. My own inner spiritual citizen refreshed by a seemingly simple process which transpires, like clockwork, every four years. Simply basking in the glow of fellow citizens exercising their right replenished my own faith on our nation.
It was the best day ever.