A civic exercise in patience
Despite all the talk of early voting, I'd been intending to wait until Election Day to do my civic duty. After all, I can walk to my polling place, and yeah, I didn't want to miss out on the excitement on THE day. I wasn't worried about a lengthy wait in line, and it wouldn't matter for me if I had to. I'm taking the day off work to volunteer for the campaign, so I could afford to wait.
My mind was changed this week, though. The Obama campaign wants those of us committed to voting for the candidate to vote early so we aren't lengthening Election Day lines and potentially causing less dedicated voters to give up due to the wait. I had to be near downtown Columbus today anyway, so I figured I could give up an hour to get my vote out of the way. (For comparison's sake, I had to wait about 45 minutes in 2004 at my polling place.)
The line of cars pulling into the Veterans Memorial parking lot was pretty steady, and the line of early absentee voters was just beginning to nudge out the door when I took my spot. I had no idea how long the line really was. It wound up and around a flight of stairs, but that was all I could see.
I was a little worried that my wait would be for naught because I'd forgotten to bring my most recent utility bill. I don't know how it is where you live, but in Ohio you must show a valid photo ID and, in some cases, something else to prove place of residence. (In my case, my driver's license still shows my old address.) I had pulled my vehicle registration and proof of auto insurance out of the glove box as backup identification proof and hoped that I wouldn't face any problems. With all of the nonsense going on in this state regarding challengers in the polling places and lawsuits over voter registration rolls, I knew it was good to be prepared.
It didn't take long to get up the stairs. To my right I could see people snaking around in a line more suited to amusement parks. Still, if this was just stretching across the lobby, that wasn't bad. Well, I was wrong. I turned the corner and saw the line on my side was longer than I realized. I turned another corner and saw that the line reached down a long hallway and then came back around. Eventually it wove its way back to that waiting section on the right. And who knew how far that was from the voting area?
By now I figured I wasn't going to be making the 11:10 a.m. screening of Changeling. I finished reading the newspaper while I was on the side of the long hallway that was making its way back to the holding area on the right. I had my knitting with me, but it would have felt weird to knit standing up. Plus, the line moved too frequently, and quarters were sometimes a bit to tight for that.
Finally I made it to the snaking line. It bent around and back to form three lines and was between a set of red, white, and blue curtains. I had assumed that this temporary patriotic interior design indicated being close to where we would vote. That was sort of true. The catch was that the line curved around on itself three or four more times on the other side of the southern curtain. (A concession stand behind the north curtain sold pizza, pretzels, candy, coffee, and bottled water and soda, although it was best positioned for those leaving after voting.) Upon reaching the other side of the curtain I could see that the end of the line was not only outside but wrapped from the side entrance to the front of the building.
I was lucky that I wasn't in any particular hurry, so the waiting wasn't too bad. The kids accompanying their parents would have had a better excuse for fussing, but they stayed well behaved. After two hours-plus of patience, I entered the room where I would vote, and two and a half hours after getting in line, I had my three-page ballot in hand.
I had to change booths twice before completing my ballot. The pen ran out of ink before I finished the first page. The pen in the next booth I picked didn't work at all. That ought to tell you how many people have been cycling through. I've done electronic voting for awhile, so I went over my ballot and the instructions for securing it in the envelope a couple times. Then I was ready to drop it in the ballot box. I don't recall ever physically placing my vote in a big container, but I did so today. It wasn't worth nearly three hours invested in the process, but getting to drop it in was a nice grace note to the morning.
Later in the day I spoke with someone who mentioned having to wait more than five hours to vote last time in the Presidential election. In that case, my wait today wasn't so bad. It's impressive to see how many people are showing up and waiting to make their voices heard, but there's got to be an easier and faster way to do it. At least we have had early voting here. I can't imagine what the polling places would be like on November 4 if the thousands who have already voted couldn't have done so until then.