Thursday, May 11, 2006

Election Day - Oregon Primary 2006

Cue announcer voice. Roll tape: Kathryn Judson has voted!

Sorry. Couldn't resist. I live in Oregon, which does all elections "by mail." This has its pros and cons, but one of the things I miss about the old way was that in the old days the poll workers would acknowledge your vote.

This was not consistent from place to place. The first precinct in which I voted, for instance, when I handed across my ballots the little old lady in charge of that part of the proceedings announced, rather importantly and none too quietly, "Kathryn [insert middle name and maiden name here] has voted!"

This startled me. As I remember it, I jumped about three inches, and scurried to the exit to minimize the time folks might stare at me after having seen me jump about three inches.

But after I had had a chance to get over my surprise, I decided I didn't mind the custom a bit. I rather liked it, in fact, once I got used to it. Face it, how often do most of us get to have our actions announced in a manner befitting doers of great things?

Besides (and you might as well laugh at this -- snickers won't hurt my feelings a bit just here), after some consideration I realized that much of my initial consternation was from the fact that previous to that experience at the polls the only time anyone had used my full name right out loud was my mother when she had reached the end of her rope. She had a nickname for me for normal use. Kathryn was trotted out when she was upset with me. Kathryn plus the middle name meant Serious Ire. Kathryn plus the middle name plus the surname was Off-the-scale Upset.

So, when I flinched upon hearing my full name I was being Pavlov Dog-ish. No question. But such things can be unlearned, should the circumstances line up right. Somewhere along the line in the years since I have switched to Kathryn for most uses, and stopped reacting like a five year old when people use it, even when it is used in combination with the middle name and/or the last name. But this is now and that was then. Then it was unnerving.

But back to the issue at hand.

In other places I've lived, there was no announcement when you finished voting. None. Discretion seemed the order of the day. Privacy. Decorum. I rather preferred the announcement-style precincts, but I didn't mind the latter. At least there was some ceremony, some sense of community effort involved.

Perhaps I should say I didn't mind much. After I'd been around the block a few more times, I found out that those ego-boosting announcements were also intended as anti-fraud actions. Somebody trying to vote under somebody else's name had to face the prospect of being recognized -- by someone else, anyone else, some knowing total stranger who just happened to be there -- as Not Who He Claims to Be. In some circles, this is thought to make criminals think twice before trying to commit vote fraud. I like to think it does, which is one of my objections to vote by mail, which strips voters of the protections, such as they are, provided by a polling place, monitored booths, and witnesses. But that's another story.

Fast forward to today. My husband voted days ago, and has had his ballot sitting around waiting for me to deliver it. We could mail it in, or there are several drop sites around, several of which are more convenient than the courthouse, but I like to drive the ballots to the courthouse and drop them in the county clerk's office myself. So, anyway, today I dug in and spent hours researching races I wasn't sure about already. I read what candidates had to say about themselves, each other, and the issues. I read endorsements. I read news reports. I pondered. I dug some more. Race by race I tackled it, and finally -- after fretting surprisingly long over who to vote for in the gubernatorial race -- I was done. Into the secrecy envelope the ballot went. The secrecy envelope went into the larger envelope with my name and address, etc., printed on it. I signed the outer envelope as required. I was well and truly done except for turning it in.

I took my husband's ballot and mine well in hand, got in the van, and drove south to the county seat, and to the county courthouse. (It's only about five miles round trip, so don't think I was doing something valiant.) I walked into the courthouse, walked up broad stairs, crossed the building to the clerk's office, walked up to the ballot box sitting this side of the counter and, one by one, semi-ceremoniously, put in my husband's ballot and then mine.

A lady to the left of me, working behind the counter, watched me vote, caught my eye, perked up and said, "Isn't the weather wonderful today?"

Uh huh. It is.


I wanted to say, with emphasis: But. I. Just. Voted. And. I. Know. Enough. History. To. Know. That. That's. Nothing. To. Take. For. Granted. Thank. You. Very. Much.

But I didn't.

She was being friendly, and nice, and was perhaps a bit wistful at having to work inside on such a nice spring day. And she had watched me vote and given me a smile, which is more than I get most elections lately. So I agreed it was a nice day, and went on to my next errand.

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