Pax (funcrunch) wrote,

Election Day

This post isn't about my political views; it's about the act of voting itself.

I have voted in every presidential election since 1988 and almost every local election since 1992. I have voted in person in Pennsylvania, absentee in Illinois, and both of the above in California. The ballots I've submitted have spanned the spectrum from paper and pencil to touchscreen electronic.

The first time I voted was in the 1988 presidential primary, shortly after I turned 18. I went with a friend (too young to vote, but just along for the ride) to the polling place, a middle school a few blocks away from my mother's house in Pittsburgh. We had trouble finding the correct entrance for voting. We went to what we thought was the right door, and the people gathered there, thinking we were students, directed us to the front door instead. After wandering around for a bit we came back to first door, where I explained I was there to vote. I was then eagerly ushered into the voting room.

This polling place used the now-old-fashioned booth with the privacy curtain and levers to push up and down. Since this was my first experience voting, and this kind of booth was what I had most often seen on TV, the curtained booth set the gold standard for me. I was very disappointed in future years to be handed a paper ballot and pencil, marker, or punching device.

Flash forward to the year 2000. I had just moved from El Cerrito to Berkeley, and heard of a new system in Alameda County where you could vote in person before the election at a fancy new touchscreen computer. The votes were collected on hard drives which were removed and stored at the end of each day. The voting process was very easy and intuitive.

For today's special election I wasn't sure what kind of ballot marking opportunity I would get. The postcard indicating my polling place had changed directed me to the garage of the building almost directly behind mine. I walked around the corner and yes, in fact, it was merely someone's mostly-emptied-out residential garage, festooned with a couple of signs to the effect of "no smoking" and "no campaigning or solicitations beyond this point". I was handed a long paper ballot printed in English and Chinese, and directed to a booth (no curtain, but high sides for privacy).

It took me a minute to understand how I was supposed to mark the ballot. Each choice had a partial arrow pointing to it. I was supposed to complete the arrow next to my choice using a black marker. I don't particularly like this system. It's not as intuitive as the touchscreen or levers, and if you make a mistake you have to get a new ballot. But at least there were only four items to mark, so I was done quickly. I put my completed ballot into a "secrecy folder", walked over to the ballot-eating machine and fed my votes to it, then left the garage with my official ballot stub.

In some perverse way, I look forward to watching the election returns tonight, even though I'll almost inevitably be disappointed with the results. I may not be patriotic, but I am glad that I have the right to cast my vote.

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