Writer’s Block: Secret Ballot

I went to the polls today. There’s only one voting location in Pomfret, CT: the local middle/elementary school.  There wasn’t any line.  The election officials had organized things by street name: If your street’s name began with an A-L, you went to one line.  If your street name was M-Z, you went to another.  The poll worker had trouble finding my name in the Grand List, and for a moment I had a panic, Oh, gods, what if they’ve struck my name from the voter registration lists?  But I checked myself; I’m not a felon, I have no reason to be struck from the lists, and I’ve voted in every election since I was eligible to vote in 1988.  

There were five polling stations on the left side of the gymnasium, and five on the right.  I was handed a copy of the state ballot, which had two referenda questions, and voting blocs for Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Green, and Working Families parties.  Tony Guglielmo was the only candidate on the ballot for State Senate, running as a Republican.  I didn’t vote for him, but there was no one else to vote for.  Other than that, I voted a straight Democratic ticket.  

Connecticut’s new ballot system is a balance of electronic and paper ballot systems.  You go to a polling station, and use a black pen to fill out an optical ballot.  Then you walk to the tabulator at the other end of the building, and put your ballot in the feed tray.  The feed tray sucks the ballot into the ballot box, and the clicker on the left-hand side of the machine registers the count.  There were 306 ballots in the machine that had been optically read; the tabulator official who I know slightly, told me that they had three paper jams in the machine earlier in the day (I voted about 7:30 am).  He told me that there is a separate box in the back of the ballot tabulator where about 50 ballots went while they unjammed the machine.  The 356+ ballots represent about 12-14% of the total for the town’s registered voters, and it’s about 10% of the town population as a whole.  W told me that this was up significantly from previous years, when by 8:00 am there were fewer than 100 votes in the box.  He gave me a sticker, which went on my right lapel. I thanked him for the information and the sticker, and left.

Outside, beyond the 75-foot limit, there were a bunch of Democratic activists holding signs for Obama, Sherri Vogt, and Joe Courtney (our House of Representatives candidate on the Democratic side — the Republican candidate is the former commander of the US Submarine Base at Groton). I asked if I could hold the Obama sign and wave at passers-by for a little while, and they assented.  Cars driving in tended to wave enthusiastically or not at all; the rate was about 6 friendly waves to one frown or head-turn away.  

The guy holding the other sign turned out to be the town Democratic Party chairman.  In twenty-five years, he said, he hadn’t seen election turnout like this one.  He said it used to be the case that all the Pickup Trucks frowned at him, and the Volvos and other sedans and station wagons waved.  Now everyone was waving.  There were no Republican activists in sight.  I held up my sign for about half an hour chatting with the guy.  We talked about mostly local issues: the Audobon Society, the new headmaster at my school.  We also chatted a little about the "cellphone effect" and the cleverness of some of the ads that have appeared on the Democratic side.  We spoke mostly kindly of the apparently-Republican drivers who arrived to vote for McCain.  One guy opened his car door to explain why he was voting McCain and not Obama.  He wasn’t happy with Obama’s tax plan, but more importantly McCain wanted the Iraq War to continue.  His wife told us she was voting for Obama, to cancel her husband’s vote.  Then work beckoned, and I needed to go to school to teach.

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