Seeding The Vote

Seeding The Vote

It is now coming up on two weeks since the big election of 2012. I don’t consider myself anything even close to being a political activist, but I do stay politically aware and usually have an opinion.

However, we all know the saying regarding opinions and rectums.

But this is not about the gluteus maximus or any of its parts, its about voting. For me, the ability to vote is not only self fulfilling, but also an obligation done out of respect for the many that sacrificed so that an American black male such as myself, can do so.

This goes far beyond the boundaries of race, religion or gender; it is about being an American. Our country has been through countless obstacles to establish the rights for all to vote.

So with this year, I found myself approaching Election Day soaked with anticipation and dripping with anxiousness because it would be the first time I ever voted.

In person that is.

I joined the Air Force at the ripe old age of 17. I will admit that I did not vote in the first couple of elections that I was eligible for; mainly because I was young and just did not know any better.

My head was in a completely different place, and it just did not seem that important to me. Then one year, I had a close friend ask me if I was going to vote.

I shrugged my shoulders and told him no.

He was white, and not more than a couple years older than me. He called me out on my obvious indifferent attitude and I will never forget his perplexed looked regarding my total lack of intrest in voting.

“Why?” he asked, in a bewildered and concerned voice.

I instantaneously became defensive. I thought that maybe I should offer some type of credible answer or we would be rolling on the floor punching each other silly.

“Well, I can’t because I’m from Michigan (we were stationed in the UK at the time) and how was I supposed to get to a poll to vote?” I replied with what I believed was a credible answer.

“Do you know what an absentee ballot is?” he said, now talking to me like a parent confronting a child that had just been caught doing something senseless.

“Of course.” I said.

“Then what is it?” he asked.

I was busted…after stumbling around for a minute or so with words trying to define something that I truly could not. He interrupted me and went into a 20 minute sermon regarding voting and how I, as a black man, should be especially knowledgeable of how many gave their lives so that I could just stand there shrugging my shoulders in total disregard for what they did.

He ended it by simply saying “That’s pretty bad man.”

I did not know exactly how to respond to what he was saying. Was he doing me a favor and trying to educate me, or was he shaming me for my ignorance?

I left the conversation a bit emotionally jumbled to say the least. I felt he overstepped his bounds and that he had no place as a white person to say what he did to me. I was admittedly annoyed with him…and slightly embarrassed. But through that fog of distressed and beaten ego, I got the intent of what he was trying to get across.

His words struck a chord inside of me.

I made it my priority to learn how the voting process worked. With the next election and every subsequent one thereafter, I voted absentee.  My lame excuse of not being able to vote simply because I was away from home in the military was never used again.

As I look back on those twenty on or so awkward minutes I had with my friend, I consider it an awakening…and I am grateful for what he did.

Truth be told, the absentee process was extremely easy. Register, receive my ballot when it was time, fill it out, and drop it in the mail.

Bada boom, bada bing.

Unfortunately with everything in life, there comes an end. Fast forward to Election Day 2012; the last time I voted was in the presidential race of 2008 which was by absentee ballot. During the following four years, I retired from the Air Force and moved to New York where I am now officially a legal resident.

Being as such, I would now physically have to go to a polling site and I was ripe with anxiety. What would it be like? Would there be a curtained booth with a gigantic industrial looking lever inside that made a god awful cha-chink when you pulled it? Would there be guards standing around to make sure no tomfoolery would take place? Would I get there and mess something up and be embarrassed by the poll staff?

As it would turn out, the whole experience was anti-climatic, annoying and disturbing.

Super-storm Sandy had ravaged our area and power was out sporadically through the eastern part of the state. With all of the mayhem, New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo, lifted the restriction of voting in your assigned district because of it. Since I had business in White Plains, I decided to visit a community center that was nearby in order to take advantage of voting before the afternoon rush.

As I went into the center, there were only five or so people ahead of me. Great I thought, in-out-and-on my way. As I waited in line, I looked around at the physical setting of where I was. The room was a large open space sprinkled with people sitting around at small tables filling out sheets  right out in the open. With the exception of single a table that had four stations separated by small dividers, there was nothing close to a booth.

All the workers wore little badges identifying them as poll staff and aside from the few that were scurrying around the open room for no apparent reason, that was it. There was one middle aged extremely slim woman sitting at the door that I thought may have been acting as security in some capacity. Though half the time, she seemed to be more interested in gazing out of the second story window into the parking lot below.

She would have been useless should some random Republican and Democrat decide to slug it out in line. Maybe she was there to call security?

Regardless, things had not played out to be what I imagined they would be.

In fact, I was now a bit horrified at what I saw. The polling staff appeared to be clueless. They struggled to answer questions that anyone had and would constantly confer with one another for a group derived conclusion.

No one person singularly seemed to know what to do.

They furiously passed papers between one another while struggling to find writing utensils for voters to use to fill out their ballot form. When it came time for me to vote, there were no pens or pencils to be seen. One of the women on the poll staff named Liza, huffed and then resorted to rummaging through her feed bag sized purse to find a pen for me. After she finally did dig one out, she uttered a few words of warning.

“Make sure you give me this back before you leave” she said looking me dead in the eye with her body locked and loaded.

I was afraid.

To make matters more complicated, since I was not voting in my appointed district, I had to fill out a special form referred to as an affidavit voting ballot. The people here were clearly not prepared for this. However the group did manage to come to a consensus on how to handle it.

By this time I was convinced that my ballot would be lost, never to be counted.

I went over to a table and filled out my ballot. I was extremely put off about the seemingly hobbled together operation going on there; I thought to myself how on earth could such an important event be so haphazardly handled?

As I finished filling out my ballot, I went to three people before they knew what to do with the envelope containing it. I walked around the room feeling a bit aimless and idiotic as if this whole debacle was my fault. Finally one of poll staff workers shouted out “hey give it to Pam…she’s back there!”

She shrieked out “PAM, what do we do with this gentleman’s affidavit ballot?”

Well “Pam” looks in my direction and walks up to me. She was clearly on her way to tend to another issue because of the agitated sigh she let out. She took my ballot envelope and looked it over making sure it was filled out correctly and sealed.

“Thank you sir, I’ll take care of this for you.” She begrudgingly said.

Pam turned, walked over to a table and placed it in an open cardboard box. And with that, I turned and exited the little den of confusion hoping that my ballot would not end up in a recycled roll of toilet paper before it was counted.

Oh and by the way, I kept Liza’s pen.