It’s an unlikely cross-section of society, the polling station. There are the young urban professionals discussing the evolution of their political ideology.
There is an older couple who have been together for decades, and the husband is saving his wife’s place in line so she can go sit down for a while.
There is the family pushing a baby in a stroller with a toddler alongside, pointing out all the interesting things in the school hallway to distract the young one from the length of the very slow-moving line.
There are those who have never done this before, who have been waiting for their big chance to make their voices heard and those who are veterans of the process, who wouldn’t dare mess up their voting streak.
There are those who feel as though their lives depend on the outcome of this election, whose hearts are pounding in their chests as they anticipate the results, and those who take a more cynical view of the electoral process and the power of the presidency, who vote even though they feel that their vote is meaningless in the confines of a two-party, electoral college utilizing system.
There are also the preschool teachers with their gaggle of young who march into the polling place and quietly point out the booths, the scanners, the police man directing the masses to the correct line for their voting district, before gathering the impressionable youths in front of the scanning machines for a photograph: “Say Barack Obama!” The preschoolers obediently repeat, “Barack Obama!” while wiggling and squirming, eyes darting all around the gym.
And there is me. With my baby in the sling. The boys are, blessedly, at a friend’s house or I might not have been there at all. But there I was. At the wrong end of a very long line. I had roughly two hours to get through it or I would be late to pick the boys up from preschool. Two hours would be plenty of time, right? People don’t wait in line to vote for two hours, do they? One hour, yes. I knew that. Micah had texted me earlier in the morning saying he’d just left the polling station. It was almost exactly an hour after he’d called to ask which voting district we were in. An hour is fine. Totally worth it to fulfill my civic responsibility.
The line moved slowly. Very slowly. Every five minutes or so, the police officer at the door would send 5 or 6 people from the front of the line to go wait at the end of another, shorter line. We crept through the hallway. Little Miss, in her sling, was beginning to weigh on my shoulder, as was the diaper bag, which I moved to the other shoulder.
A lady across the hall noticed the change and asked me about the sling. Was it comfortable? Was it weird to have my shoulders lopsided? Wasn’t it nicer to have one of those ones you could wear out front – the ones that go over both shoulders? I used our sudden connection to probe for answers: How long have you been in line? How much longer do you think it’ll be? An hour and a half? Really? Oh, and the line was shorter when you got here? Awesome. The line moved and we lost touch.
I pulled out my paper and pen to make lists, but Little Miss didn’t like me doing that, so I put it away. I pulled out my phone to text my sister: Have you voted? The line where i am is huge. I listened to bits of conversations, regarded the pre-k artwork that lined the walls, examined my fellow voters and wondered what they all would have been doing if they hadn’t been waiting in line to vote.
Abby texted back: I was planning on heading over right after lunch. Is this going to take the rest of my day?
I texted back: It might. It took micah an hour this morning and the line was shorter then. But maybe your line will be short.
Abby: Eesh. Here’s hoping.
Me: No doubt.
I put my phone away. Then pulled it out again and started deleting old messages, just for something to do. The line crept forward. I rounded the corner of the hallway. Then slowly made a big U-turn back into the same hallway, heading the other direction.
Abby texted: What do you need to bring to the election?
Me: You need to know your voting district. Little Miss was getting fussy. I pulled her out of the sling and tried to bounce her.
Abby: ID or anything? Because I know my district, I just don’t want to be in line forever and then have them tell me I need some ID I don’t have with me.
Me: Take it just in case. I haven’t gotten that far yet. Little Miss is squirming and starting to cry. I bounce her and blow in her face and talk to her as cheerfully as I can. I smile at the people who tell me how great it is that she’s going to vote for the first time. I hope she doesn’t need to eat. I scan the line. It looks like it’ll be at least 15 more minutes before I get to the door of the gym.
We scoot forward. Little Miss is not happy. She will not be calmed. I give in and start rooting around in my bag for the nursing cover, unzipping my jacket, and taking off the sling. I think of what I would say if someone expresses their displeasure at my breastfeeding publicly. (“Oh, this is uncomfortable for you? Not as uncomfortable as it is for me.”) But Little Miss latches on and is silent again. No one comments. I push the bag forward with my feet as we make our way to the door.
We’re next in line. The police officer at the door looks somewhat uncomfortable at the sight of me with my nursing cover, but Little Miss is satiated and I put everything away. Until she spits up on the floor, then I pull out a burp cloth and wipe it up as quickly as I can. It is just after noon now, and the officer is done with his shift. He gives the run-down to his replacement. I am skeptical that she gets what’s going on. I worry that I’ll be standing there for 10 more minutes. But it’s only a few minutes before she lets me in, wondering if it might be too warm in there for the baby. I can always take her sweater off, I say, as I make a bee-line for the District 57 line. There are 12 people in front of me.
I hold and rock Little Miss, who seems to still be uncomfortable. Then, quite suddenly, I know why. And I know I’ve got a situation on my hands. I discreetly peek at her back. Yep. Blowout. There are 7 people in front of us. I pull her dress down over the onesie and hope it doesn’t get any worse. But she’s not done yet. I just make sure no one can see. Then someone approaches me from another line, “Excuse me. She’s throwing up a little.” I pull out the burp cloth and wipe it up. Two more people leave the line. We’re almost there.
And then we are there. I sign my name in the voting book. A lady pulls a ballot off the stack and puts it in a folder. Another lady walks me to the booths, tells me how to fill in a bubble sheet, points out the lady who will show me how to scan it, and leaves. I mull over the ballot, wondering why, after what seems like 4 years of campaigning, I still can’t make up my mind. I fill in the sheet and take it to the scanners. It is 12:30. I’ve been there nearly 2 hours. I have 10 minutes to get home and change Little Miss before I need to head out the door to pick up the boys.
I text Micah and Abby as I walk home: Took me almost 2 hours.
Micah: Wow. I’m sorry.
Abby texts me later in afternoon: Does voting count if it takes less than an hour? Or if you don’t get the ‘I voted’ sticker?
I text back: There were no stickers for me, either. I think our votes will be nullified because of it.
That’s right. Two hours in line. Fussy baby. Public breastfeeding. A diaper blowout. And I didn’t even get a sticker.