The hazards of voting day
It’s 5:45 a.m. The Smith Valley Library parking lot is uncommonly empty. Orllyene, my wife, and I struggle to stay awake. Pete arrives. Pete, Gary, Toni, Orllyene and I are poll workers for the 2012 primary election. Primary elections are like open auditions. As a young dancer in New York, I’d hear of an open audition. One hundred and fifty guys would show up and the choreographer would weed us out. We were then call backs. Today’s winning candidates will be call backs for the general election in November.
Toni will verify the voter’s signatures in the voter signature registration log. I will note the time each voter casts their vote. Orllyene has been assigned a skilled position. She will insert a plastic card into a small coding device and enter the precinct and political affiliation of the voter. Then she presses the “yes” button twice and out pops the card, like toast from a toaster.
Gary and Pete are leaders of our election brigade. They’re proficient in the operation of the black, spider-like voting machines. The machines are infallible. We aren’t. At the end of the day, plastic cards, signatures, and machine calibration numbers all must tally. There is no option.
“We do solemnly swear to support, protect and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, etc.” We say “I do” and then make the same promise for the State of Nevada.
At precisely 7 a.m., Pete bellows, “The polls are now open.” Our first three voters march to the machine of their choice and insert their cards. “Why does my screen say “invalid card?” a voter asks. Then the other two voters echo the same comment. The polls have been open for less than five minutes and we have a crisis. Gary roars, “It’s impossible.” Pete springs to his feet and tacitly confers with Gary. I want to cry out, “Houston, we have a problem.” A deepening silence fills the room. Gary thoughtfully pieces the entire voting schematic together in his mind. Seconds later he indignantly strides across the room to Orllyene’s coding machine and replaces it with a standby machine. Voila. Success. Only 11 hours and 50 minutes to go.
During the day, the flow of voters is routine, but some voters stand out in my mind. “I’m 95 years old and Bev and I have never missed voting,” Ben says. Another is Josefina. Josefina came to Smith Valley from Mexico in 1976, and she has never missed an election. Finally at a little after 5, Josefina arrives. “Buenas tardes, Josefina,” I say. Josefina smiles her sweet smile and marches to the nearest machine and casts her vote.
During a lull in the voting, I ask Pete about his “Nam” experience. He said he was there in ’66,’67 and ’68 and skippered a LPD-2. They would make trips up the Cua Viet River and land 1,000 Marines at a time. They were only about 3 km. below the DMZ. He had a brass plate installed on the bulkhead in front of him that read, “There is nothing in life quite so exhilarating as being shot at unsuccessfully,” Winston Churchill, The Boer War.
Ben, Bev, and Josefina have a soft, spoken dedication to their country. Pete’s dedication is as a combatant, but both are equally high in one regard, Patriotism.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.