My Vote Could Decide Everything Again

This past November 8 was the second voting cycle in a row where it appears that my vote would have actually made a difference in who got elected. I live in East Hampton and I had a strong opinion about whether or not we should re-elect Bill Wilkinson, our present Town Supervisor. I voted. As this is written, which is on November 13, we still don’t know who won. The difference between the two candidates is this close.

The same thing happened last year when Tim Bishop, the Congressman from this district, ran for re-election. He faced a strong challenge from Randy Altschuler. I wanted one of them to win real bad. But on Election Day, which is Tuesday, when I woke up late that morning, I did think I needed to vote, then realized because of an appointment in Southampton at 10, I wouldn’t have time to run up to the firehouse to do so. After the appointment, I went to the office to work, and work went so late it was too late to get back to Springs before the polls closed. [expand]

Boy did I rue the day. That election was so close that when Altschuler thought he had won, he went down to Washington, D.C., to shake everybody’s hands. Then it turned out he should not have done that. The recount dragged on. There were two occasions during the re-count when the battle tipped one way or the other as various errors were found, then there were “lost” ballots found, in East Setauket or someplace, and then the write-ins came in weird a week later. Finally, election officials said that Bishop had been re-elected. I sure felt that not casting my vote had been a real bad idea.

Having gone through these two experiences, I do wonder if it is really in the interest of democracy that just one man’s vote, mine, should be the deciding vote and if that is fair to everybody else. I mean, voting and all the rest is supposed to be a joint venture with all of us participating and the majority deciding. Instead, it came down to me.

For convenience, it seems to me, maybe we just ought to let everybody else vote, and when they got done with it, then me, the King, could decide.

I should say, by the way, that everybody is in a happy mood at the firehouse on voting day. When I went there November 8, everybody had a spring in their step, everybody was smiling, everybody seemed proud to be an American. There were American flags everywhere.

But, up in Springs, this year anyway, it seems we are going backwards in how we tabulate the votes. Up until now, we’d vote by walking into these open metal booths with curtains on them and all the names of all the candidates along the inside wall. We’d pull a big lever and the curtain would swoosh closed behind us. In front of us there’d be these little levers above the candidates’ names you could move down with your index finger to vote for this person or that person. They’d make a snapping noise as you did that. Actually you didn’t vote for them when you did that. You’d set up to vote for them. There’s a sign that says after you pull down all the little levers to indicate who you wanted, you just pull the big lever backwards and, simultaneously, the curtain opens, your vote is recorded somehow, and the little levers snap back into the place to be ready for the next voter. My best guess is inside there is a bunch of wheels, pulleys and gears that make that happen. Early 20th century technology.

There were half a dozen voting booths lined up. You’d hear all this clicking of the little levers, the clanging of the big levers and the sliding of the curtains back and forth all over.

There had been talk that there’d be a new system. I expected we’d be going forward into the future, with maybe a computer with a touch screen or something.

Instead, what I saw were a bunch of podiums, something like what you see when a man stands up to speak. You got behind the podium and there was this big piece of paper with every candidate on it. They were printed out into a big pad of them. You ripped off the top piece of paper, picked up the permanent magic marker that was next to it and filled in the boxes next to the names where you wanted them. I think this is how they did this in the 19th century, except no magic marker, maybe a quill pen. We’ve gone retro.

When I was done, I took my sheet of paper over to this man, a voting deputy, who was standing in front of a giant copier or scanner and he told me to slide my sheet into a slot in front of me.

“It goes in either right side up or face down, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

When I started to do so, right side up, something inside grabbed it and pulled it in further. I never saw it again.

I also saw that as I started to do so, this man who was standing next to the copier was looking down at my sheet and was staring at which boxes I had filled with the magic marker. It was only for a moment. Maybe he was just making sure I was doing it right. But it offended me greatly. He was looking at who I voted for.

Anyway, the sheet went in. Our eyes met. “Thank you very much,” he said, smiling.

Being polite? Liked who I voted for? Next time, I will be sure to place the sheet in upside down.

Or maybe next time, I won’t vote at all during the day, just come in at the end, ask if it is close and if they need me to decide. We shall see.

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