With the presidential campaign a few weeks behind us and the next one at least as many away, I find myself gravitating back to Election Day. Not because of the results or the deeper democratic or demographic dynamics surrounding the election but — after months of forecasts, foreshadowing and foreboding — for the participatory experience itself. Some thoughts:
1. I voted by absentee ballot. This was not a highly satisfying experience. Like going to a much-hyped sporting event and then finding yourself watching most of the game on the JumboTron, you are undeniably close to — even part of — the action, but can’t help but feel removed from it. Plus, everyone knows that absentee ballots don’t get counted.
2. My absenteeism was for a good cause, or at least “good cause” according to the criteria for qualifying for an absentee ballot. I worked at Greater Unity Baptist Church, on Tireman just west of Livernois — “a precinct other than the precinct where I reside.”
3. I have long thought houses-of-worship-as-polling-places show that church and state can be good neighbors — respectful roommates, even — as long as they decorate subtly and clean out the fridge.
4. The polling staff reported to their station at 5:45 in the morning. Even as a parent and ostensible adult, I have had relatively few experiences that have required me to be somewhere — alert and wearing a buttoned shirt with the right buttons buttoned in the right button holes — before 6 a.m. Nor have many of my many parking violations been a result of unlawful earliness.
5. My assignment was to help people confirm they were in the right polling place and, if not, point them in the right direction, in most cases to a church a few blocks in either direction on Tireman. But the red sticker I received (“Election Official: Supervisor”), coupled with my patriotic shoes, bestowed on me the authority and expectation to do a wide variety of tasks over those 16 hours that I won’t discuss in detail for fear that I violated any number of election laws. Disclosure: I accepted a gift — sugarless gum —from a voter.
6. The line was about an hour long, and the ballot was two pages front and back. Some people were visibly restless, but most were patient and polite. Many were excited by the sight of friends and familiar faces they may not have seen since one or two or four Novembers ago — a practical reality of living in a part of the city that lacks many of the shared spaces (schools, parks, shops, restaurants, buses) it once had.
7. During a long day of promoting the democratic process, it’s important to eat well. I ate seven White Castle steamed hamburgers. Or I assume I did based largely on the seven White Castle steamed hamburger boxes that remained after my non-break. In fairness, that was only 7 percent of the available number of White Castle steamed hamburgers.
8. Is there anything cooler than bringing your kids to vote? According to the kids I asked — yes, yes there is.
9. The M-100 voting machine — a kindly robot that, as far as I could tell, had not yet developed self-awareness — printed out the day’s results just like so many woefully long Target receipts. Our result: Obama 526, Romney 6.
10. Among the handful of non-presidential write-ins, the one that struck me as too random to be random: Tim Duncan for University of Michigan Regent.
11. In 2008, I volunteered in Highland Park, leaving only to go to Beaumont for our first ultrasound for our firstborn. When Sen. Obama said, “This is your victory” in Grant Park, I broke down in tears on my couch. Four years and many ultrasounds later, when President Obama said, “The best is yet to come,” I was on the same couch, fast asleep.