I vote for the ritual of the polling place

phild2008@sbcglobal.netJune 21, 2012 

My mind is snarled by two conflicting thoughts. One is my hope that Proposition 29 will eke out a last-minute, by-a-nose win and increase California’s cigarette tax by $1 per pack. I know many of you disagree with me about Prop. 29, but I’m cool with our little disagreement and hope you are too.

As I write this, California still has thousands of uncounted ballots from our June 5 election. Although Prop. 29 is behind, it’s steadily catching up.

My other conflicting thought is that I’m saddened by the rapid spread of ballot-by-mail voting. I believe that taking the trouble to go to my polling place on Election Day is one of democracy’s sacraments. But here I am hoping that a lot of uncounted vote-by-mail ballots will save Prop. 29 from almost sure defeat.

What do I mean when I say Election Day is one of democracy’s sacraments? Well, I remember one Election Day back in East Penfield, N.Y., where we lived on a 10-acre farm on a curve in the road. My parents once took me with them when they went to vote.

I think the polling place was in a township road-maintenance yard.

I still remember going into a big, dark, gray, metal building. I didn’t notice any other kids. The adults were businesslike but friendly. They spoke in low tones. I left feeling that I’d witnessed some serious adult business being carried out.

I still think voting is serious business. The rituals of our polling places help us feel the seriousness and patriotism of voting. They also provide a place to share those feelings quietly with some fellow Americans. And it actually isn’t much trouble for able-bodied people to go to their polling places.

I admit I feel a little self-conscious when I enter a polling place. I want to get my part of the ritual right. What is my precinct number? Sign my full name on the proper line on the roll. Pick a booth. Properly mark the ballot. Properly slip it into the ballot box. The poll workers are friendly and helpful. I leave feeling good.

Voting booths used to provide more privacy when they had curtains, but they’re still adequate. They still liberate bullied wives and henpecked husbands to disobey their spouses’ orders, and to vote whichever way they please.

But I read in Tuesday’s Tribune that in this county in the June 5 election, 72.6 percent of the votes were cast by mail rather than in person. Pretty soon we’ll just text in our votes on our cellphones.

How will that reinforce our devotion to democracy?

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.

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