Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stories from the polls...

One of the best parts of this election has been how engaged people are in the voting process. I spent most of Nov 4th reading people's stories about voting. And so I decided to ask a group of alums from my college alma mater about their voting experiences...

A poll (in four acts):
1) When did you vote?
2) Where is your polling place?
3) How long did it take?
4) What type of ballot/machine did you use?

And a bonus question: what does your polling place look like?

My answers:
1) 8:30 am
2) down the street (Ann Arbor, MI)
3) 1 hour
4) Scantron baby

Bonus question: The picture at the top of this post is my polling place. Here's another picture

I call it the voting hut. It's built out of cinder blocks and is probably 400 square feet. It's nowhere near as tall as it looks in the picture. The top is all ivy. That thing in the front might be a tree--it's kind of hard to tell. I've always kind of hated the voting hut. It's tiny--barely big enough for two tables and 5 little privacy screens. And it's unheated, meaning that on a typical day in November, it can be a wee bit chilly. But this Nov 4th, I found out that the voting hut is actually kind of unique. According to a random woman walking by as I took these pictures, it is the only single-purpose polling place in the state. Until a few years ago, it was used only one day a year. In 2005, the city council decided to open it up to a wounded bird sanctuary the rest of the year...on the condition that they clean it up for November. So there you go.

87 people answered my poll. About 40% voted before Nov 4th. The rest voted primarily in the morning. The earliest respondent arrived around 5:45 am. I read a lot about long lines in the news, but most people who responded didn't face a wait at the polls--31 people (~35%) waited less than 10 minutes and 64 people (~75%) waited less than an hour. That said, there were a few people who waited 2 hours or more.

Ballot type:
40% scantron bubbles
12% scantron arrows (I didn't know this existed!)
14% electronic touchscreen
5% electronic wheelie thing
23% absentee/vote-by-mail

There were also a few odd voting methods. 4 people faced an old-style manual machine with a big fat lever. 3 people seem to have old paper-in-the-box style ballots. I was surprised at how few electronic machines there were. Ross tells me that many precincts are getting rid of their electronic voting machines. Makes sense--scantron is a tested technology.

What struck me about the responses to the poll was the diversity of people's polling places. Here are a few of the descriptions people wrote...

From Washington DC:
[I voted at] 8AM. Polls opened at 7AM and I got in line at 20 'till 7. The line was already 2 blocks long. The line picked up after an older woman who has been the A through C lady for over 10 years was removed from her post. Sad. [My polling place is a] huge old brick elementary school gymnasium/auditorium. Not many older people. Curiously, I also didn't see any Hispanic voters. My neighborhood is estimated to be about 1/3 Hispanic, 1/3 white, 1/3 African American.

Also in DC:
It's the gym of an elementary school, so lots of posters about good sportsmanship and rules for gym class. Plus! Mats! And basketball hoops!

And nearby, in Arlington VA:
Our voting center is a former school that's been turned into a community center. They still have some after school type programs so lots of inspirational posters in the lobby and what was probably a lunch room where we actually voted.

One person voted in a neighbor's garage:
i thought voting in a garage would be a little weird, but it was actually nice. the poll workers were very friendly and we had plenty of privacy for filling out our ballots. and they gave us chocolate!

Another voted in a local tavern
What does your polling place look like? Like an old lady's house (velvet fleur-de-lis patterned wallpaper, chandeliers, fake white brick paneling)

Another voted at an old-folks home:
[it looked] like an equal-opportunity-housing-for-old-people apartment lobby. with a nice stale smokey smell. a bit cramped. (and yes, I was a bit disturbed by how easy it would've been for me to glance over at the handicapped guy's ballot while waiting in line to receive my own.

In Cincinnati:
I think they hold choir practice in the room we were using-- there were hymns on the chalkboard.

In Brooklyn:
Typical elementary school gymnasium. Extra cute because they were doing a PTA bake sale and a book sale in the lobby and I got to see the kids' artwork in the hallway (they did a project with illuminated letters).

In Kansas City:
The foyer of a squat red brick church. The voting only used the foyer, which left it pretty crowded. If they'd included a class room or other larger room, it could have been much more efficient.

A little difficulty:
Elementary school gym--Ryan wished they had basketballs for people who were waiting in line to play with. They had Chinese, French, and Korean translators, and I think they must have also had Arabic and Spanish, but I didn't see signs for those. We did have sort of a sad experience, which was that they were asking some people (including me) for IDs along with their voting cards (I think it was because a lot of the poll workers didn't speak perfect English and didn't understand when people said their names, but it wasn't cool). Does anyone have ideas about how to report it--there was one guy making trouble over it, which is probably good, although he was being really abrasive about it, which I don't think helped anything.

Not-so-secret ballot:
It's a rentable community center conference room, so nothing fancy - white walls, bluish carpet. Lots of instructional voting posters. Interestingly, none of the touch-screens were particularly hidden from view, so any interested party could see how you voted pretty easily.

From a Chicagoan who waited 2-1/2 hours(!) to vote:
Welles Park looks like an old community gymnasium, and it smells like my elementary school in winter. Not pleasant, but since half the wait was outside and it was a beautiful day, it wasn't too bad.

Elsewhere in Chicago:
Lower level of a church, kinda small, bad/old paint jobs, but nice people, and not a lot of people generally. There was a lady next to me swearing to herself about all the other choices she felt she had to make. I also caught a glimpse of the old Hispanic man next to me and his ballot--for all of the questions regarding whether or not to retain a particular circuit court judge, he marked both "yes" and "no" for every judge. Democratic obligations tell me I should've done something similar, instead of just seeing what the Sun-Times thought I should do.

In Massachusetts:
What does your polling place look like? It's a fire house. Today the fire engine was pulled out so the entire inside garage-area was free. They changed the entrance from the primary so today you had to swing around to the side.
In Chestertown:
It is a pretty dull 1960s brick box fire station.
We voted in the convention hall side (rather than the truck garage side) whose main function is betrayed by the big bingo light board on one wall.

In small-town California:
Scan-able paper ballot in a booth that looked like it was constructed by the high school shop students, with a curtain made from a black trash bag. (yay for small towns!)

In Lewisburg, PA
Blue metal building with one largish room (that smelled like too many sweaty people had been huddled in it) with about 5 offices off of it.

The advantage of absentee voting in St Petersburg:
It was a bar called "The Other Side," that seems to be aimed at foreigners. They had Philly Cheese Steaks (is that right? I've been out of the country too long?!), Grilled Cheeses, and Falafel on the menu, and Newcastle on tap for like 10 bucks. American men sat at the bar with their pretty Russian dates. The consular representative ate something with salsa (rarity in Russia). The bar was filled with mostly Americans, with passports, excitedly filling out their absentee ballots.

And absentee from Irkutsk:
My polling place is quite messy at the moment. It's a small room, full of bed, dresser, desk, chair, bookcase, printer, computer, fax machine, much of which has stuff spread out all over it.

And Paris:
An envelope marked "PAR AVION."

In my dear Iowa:
What does your polling place look like? It's an old house that probably was there before the city built a park around it. The city rents it out for community events. To vote you must walk through the kitchen, get your ballot in the dining room, then vote in the living room, and exit through the kitchen door, making a counter-clockwise circuit through the house.

And Iowa City:
Tears in the eyes of our students this morning when our principal said that today was a historic day and that by tomorrow we would either have our first black president or our first female vice-president. I teared up, and two six grade boys, both black american, swallowed down tears (as boys this age do), one mumbling to himself "it's gonna happen!" I sure hope it does, for me and for you, but really for them.

And Cedar Rapids, IA:
A mini multi-purpose room in a wandering, one-level, 1960's brick jobber.

Issues at a Texas polling place:
The polling place was a small, black baptist church. The line when H. voted at 7:15 was apparently ridiculously long, with the small parking lot in gridlock and people with flyers moving in and out of the line (well inside the minimum distance line). When I got there an hour later I walked right in the door (H. had to deal with the medical center crowd on their way in to work). There was a stray brochure for some Democratic candidates on the sign-in table (WTF? How hard is it to follow some common sense rules?), but I think it had been left by an absent-minded voter rather than set up as an advertisement. There were a bunch of 50- and 60-something ladies trying to help people who probably understood the process better than they did, but it was in a cute old lady sort of way. The voting machines themselves were practically stacked on top of each other with essentially no privacy, and I had a guy next to me helping his dad vote ("OK, now push the button for straight party Democrat . . . no, Democrat, Dad . . . "), but it was no biggie. I suspect that if anybody had audited the polling place they would have had some issues, but given that this is an overwhelmingly Democratic precinct in an overwhelmingly Republican state, I doubt anybody would bother to make a fuss. All in all a pretty smooth experience.

Makes you wonder:
Inside kind of looks like a really small gymnasium with awful fluorescent lighting. It's basically a big room with gray walls and a white-tiled floor. But one of the people working the polls apparently recognized me and said, "HEY! Where do you work? I see you Inside kind of looks like a really small gymnasium with awful fluorescent lighting. It's basically a big room with gray walls and a white-tiled floor. But one of the people working the polls apparently recognized me and said, "HEY! Where do you work? I see you walking to work EVERY MORNING! Your outfits are always so INTERESTING!"

Another Chicagoan:
[My polling place is] the adidam spiritual center... a mysterious temple whose religious practices are completely unknown to me

And another, who voted at the Daley Center:
It was a small room with lots of hallways and twenty or so machines in every available hallway. No natural light, no windows. It was also about 80 degrees.

And yet another:
The inside kind of looks like a preschool. Painted cinderblocks and bulletin boards with pictures of the Special Olympics and, when I was there, little kids carving pumpkins.

Short responses:
Like a boring office building. Like a place you might expect a potluck.
It's one of those church basement multi-purpose rooms, so there were lots of folding chairs, tables, and boring tiles.

Voting in Oregon is by mail: My living room/the mailbox, as Oregon is all vote by mail. However, I actually cast my ballot at the county election office, because I got beet juice on the first ballot and had to trade it in for a clean one.

From Santa Monica:
Brick church with a big steeple, voting area inside the front lobby. Color-coded folding tables for check in, high tables with little plastic privacy thingies for voting.

And Arden, West Virginia Community room of teeny tiny church on the edge of an apple orchard.

And Minneapolis, Minnesota:
It is on the ground floor of some high rise apartments ... nothing too exciting except all of the great neighbohood people that were there.

A church gymnasium:
It was fantastic. The gymnasium was full of bingo stuff and lots of tables all smooshed together. Everyone was waiting in the cold, and excited, and my brother in law (30 years old) voted for the first time in his life. He said never thought he'd vote, but he was really excited about this election.

A county courthouse:
My polling place was a small room, maybe six by ten, with a partitioned table in the middle that made sort of mini-cubicles. I was one of four or five people in the room; two were an elderly couple, of which the woman kept asking in a querulous voice whether Proposition 1 was "that one about the homo-sexuals". (It was.)

An elementary school gym:
Tn an elementary school right around the corner from my building, standing in a sweet cardboard privacy booth with American flags all over it, which was awesome. It ruled to vote in an elementary school gym, although I was sorry to see they still had the damned climbing ropes hanging from the ceiling. Those things were murder. There was a woman in front of me who started to sob as the machine took her ballot. A man-- a stranger to her, I think-- put his arms around her and said "It's a big day. It's a big day."

From an expat in Lesotho:
My office is very bland and full of wonderful printouts about how Jesus is the strongest man ever and how every woman would be lucky to have him for a man. I don't know who put them up or if they are still around. Since I am there about once a week I don't take them down. Otherwise I have a desk with a computer and a big cabinet full of junk that I don't mess with either.

And finally, some drama from elsewhere in Ann Arbor, MI. Just in case you doubted the drama that tends to swirl whenever the undergrads are around.
My polling place was full of college students. Apparently, two of them weren't on the registered voter rolls despite registering, and a large fight had broken out between election judges. They were shouting at each other over the students heads. One bystander was on a cell phone reporting all of the action to an election monitoring hotline. The two unregistered-registered students looked trapped, helpless, and despondent.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mmm...civic responsibility....

Unless you live under a rock, you already know that today is votin' day.

So go vote!