A weighty visit to the polls
I voted today.Never mind who got my vote. Now that I’ve voted, I feel as if I’ve washed my hands of the whole affair.But somehow, the act of voting – actually casting my ballot – is haunting me.Voting is a vitally important act. And this is a vitally important election. But the voting itself felt curiously trivial.I remember the first time I voted. It was the presidential election of 1968 – Hubert Humphrey vs. Richard Nixon.I was registered to vote in the New York town where I’d grown up, so on the morning of Election Day, my father and I went down to the polling place together. It was the elementary school I’d attended as a child, not really that many years before.The voters that morning were a respectable middle-class crowd, mostly men in business suits, like my father, casting their votes before heading into Manhattan to work. It made me feel a little more like an adult to be standing among these grown-ups, doing my bit for democracy.Voting felt like serious business, involving serious, massive machines, lined up in what had once been my second-grade classroom.You stepped into the booth, pulled a big lever and a curtain swept closed behind you with a mechanical clatter. To cast each vote, you moved a small lever next to your chosen candidate’s name. It clicked firmly into place. There was no question how you were voting.And when you were done, you pulled the big lever and – with a loud ka-chunk! – your votes were recorded and the curtain swept open again.It all felt so solid, so real. So serious and important.I remember the startling contrast when I began to vote in Aspen. There was no booth, no curtain, no levers. We voted with punch cards, at spindly little stands, as flimsy and wobbly as cheap folding card tables. There was no sense of privacy – and though I’ve never been secretive or ashamed about whom I vote for, I felt curiously exposed, standing virtually out in the open, casting my vote.One of the things I remember well from that election in 1968, was the feeling of privacy when I voted. Once the curtain closed, I was absolutely alone with my thoughts and my right to vote.I remember the giddy feeling that I could actually vote for Richard Nixon. It would be a total rejection of everything I had ever believed in … and I could do it, just like that! Click.Such a strange feeling. In that moment, I held my character in my hands and I was free to do whatever I wanted. Click.I didn’t vote for Nixon, even though it wouldn’t have mattered in any real way. New York was no more likely to give its electoral votes to Richard M. Nixon in 1968 than it is to give those votes to George W. Bush in 2004. Indeed, this year, with at least some question about which candidate Colorado will choose, the vote I cast today may matter much more than my vote in ’68.But that vote 36 years ago certainly felt more substantial.Today, I wandered down to the county building, almost two weeks before Election Day. I laughed with the clerks about the contradictory instructions for filling out the ballot – one set says use a pen, the other says use ONLY a pencil. I “bubbled in” my votes – carefully filling the little ovals next to my chosen candidates’ names. There was a cardboard shield that provided some theoretical privacy, although when I accidentally bumped it with my wrist, it almost fell over.And then, having voted, I left, stuck with a feeling of “Is that all there is?”My vote may have more weight, but the process itself seems ever more flimsy.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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