It was still dark when my alarm went off this morning. I looked outside and saw nothing but streetlights reflecting off damp asphalt. My throat was on fire. My glands were swollen. My head was stuffy. But I rolled out of bed with purpose: I had to vote!
While traveling from the Richmond district to North Beach this morning I saw polling stations flooded with early voters. Lines wrapped around buildings and down the sidewalk and it wasn’t even 7 a.m. Experts predict a record turnout as more than 130 million voters are expected to visit the polls today. I cannot tell you the enormous surge of pride and excitement I felt when heading down to my polling station on Columbus Avenue. I think I actually skipped in my high heels.
When I arrived in front of the SFGreen building there were already dozens of voters stretched out the door. I took my place and immediately texted Emily.
“Happy election day! I am standing in line to vote. The line is about 45 deep.”
Twenty minutes later I had a large coffee and cranberry muffin hand delivered to me while I waited. Emily was among the first in the city to cast her ballot. I was the 370th person at the polling station to cast mine. Despite having to wait upwards of an hour to vote, (in heels), I don’t think I will ever vote absentee. For me, waiting in line is part of the election process. It’s the last minute gut check. It’s a sobering time spent considering what do I stand for today?
A little boy and his mother waited in front of me in line. She brought him with her so he could learn about the voting process before going to school. It brought back memories of my own childhood when my mother would take me with her to vote at the local high school after dinner. As we turned onto the school grounds there were typically swarms of brightly colored signs boasting the names of candidates I had never heard of, clouds of breath dangling between them. I remember wondering who are all these people? I remember thinking they all looked frozen. I remember wondering what could be so important that it was worth standing out in the cold yelling about.
Twenty years later, I understand. Somehow this election is different from the previous two presidential elections I have participated in. In the past, I always felt I had to vote. This year, I wanted to.
When I was little, I watched as my mom checked her name off a list of registered voters in town. She would enter a privacy booth to make her selections while I waited outside. To this day, I cannot recall my mother ever sharing her choices. Looking back, I am proud of that fact. I think it allowed me and my siblings to form our own opinions. (Unlike the gal behind me who dialed her dad to find out which candidate she should vote for. The voices in my head battled between turning around and telling her just where she could stick her ballot and simply keeping my mouth shut. Silence won that round.)
My feet had long since gone numb by the time I breached the doors of the polling station. The space heater inside did little to thaw them while I marked by ballot. I triple checked my selection, afraid that somehow I had screwed up and voted for the wrong candidate, before inserting it into the machine. I watched as the count clicked ahead one number and smiled.
“Do you want a sticker,” the woman at the door asked?
As I was leaving I called my mom to let her know I voted today. And I am still wearing my red “I voted!” sticker. Eventually I will take it off. Eventually someday it will get discarded. But not today. Today, I think it is one for the books.