The Vote Rocked Me

I arrived at my polling place this morning, not knowing what kind of scene to expect.

After days of TV images of snaking lines, hours long, in early voting states, I brought plenty of reading material and excitement at maybe seeing something in my town that I’d never seen first-hand before.

The emotion I brought to the polls wasn’t reflected in the vibe I found, however: the scene at the public library where I vote was placid, even dull, as usual.

The poll workers, as always, seemed completely disinterested, without affect. They might as well have been scanning groceries, for all they conveyed the thrill of the electoral process unfolding in this historic vote.

I was a paltry Number 52 in my district, at about 7:45 a.m. My wait was about 6 minutes on line to sign in. Clearly, the reported 60,000 newly registered voters in Essex County, N.J., are waiting on long lines in other towns.

But something happened when I approached the front of the line: I saw, in the line next to mine, a neighbor signing in to vote. An academic, originally from Italy, she’d become a U.S. citizen last year so that she could vote in the 2008 presidential election.

When I greeted her, I saw that she was nervous, but smiling. When she entered the booth, she had a moment of confusion about the new machine and asked a poll worker to help.

A few minutes later, she emerged from behind the red curtain, grinning triumphantly, if apologetically about the delay. “My first time,” she said, to everyone waiting in line.

I congratulated her, thinking I’d just witnessed a small thing in my little community that was moving, memorable — and huge, when multiplied by all the first-time voters coming out today to cast their ballots across the land.

Alice Chasan served as editor and associate publisher of Shelterforce from 2007 to 2008.


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