Friday, May 18, 2012

Elections in a small town


     Voting.  It's one of those responsibilities that comes with the privilege of being an American.  I remember very vividly when I finally was able to go vote for the first time. How proud I was to have a part in voting for the President, and I somehow felt that my vote helped him actually win! 
     In a small town, voting is quite different.  If you were to run for some kind of public office, you would go to the court house and announce your bid to run and then begin your campaign.  If you wanted to "make friends and influence people" you would most likely put an ad in the local paper first, just to get your name out there.  You would then make a bunch of signs (spray painted on cardboard or plywood is the norm) and drive around the area to ask if you can put them in people's yards. If the race were very close, we would be able to tell who was "winning" by who had the most signs around town.  You would know that the most prominent places to put your signs would be at the 4-way stop in the middle of town, and outside of each cafe' and bar.  If you had some extra campaign funds, you  might be able to rent the flashing message board outside of the hair salon right next to the 4-way stop. Everyone in the county drives past there.  You might get really inventive and paint a large message on your back fence, house roof, or the side of your barn or your pickup.  If you really wanted to get on people's good side, you would order cheap pens with your campaign slogan on them and go door-to-door handing them out.
     When voting day finally arrives, each citizen goes to their respective polling place. It may be in a church, library or fire station.  The election volunteers get things ready the night before. They dig out the old, musty, red, white and blue striped curtains and drape them over the thin aluminum frames that stand in one corner of the room.  There are long tables set up near the entrance to the room where the election officials sit to check you in. 
     When you arrive, you may have to wait in line, especially if it is over the lunch hour.  You will pull up to the polling place and see several pickups (many with dogs in the back patiently waiting for their owners).  You will stand and chat about the weather and the crops this year while you wait your turn.  As you approach the election check-in, if the worker recognizes you, you don't need to show your picture ID.  They love to say "personal recognizance", as if they have been practicing those words for awhile.  They then announce (seemingly to the whole room), "republican" or "democrat", so the other person knows which ballot to hand you. You then take your ballot to one of the voting booths and shut the curtain behind you.
     There are no computerized voting machines. We have never used  punch cards nor had a problem with hanging chads.  When you pull the curtain behind you, there is nothing there but a thin Sharpie marker with which to mark your ballot that was handed to you. After you vote, you carry your ballot to the box and hand it in.  If your kids are with you they fight over who gets to put it in the slot.
     And then the wait begins.  The election officials are often busy until late into the night counting the ballots and calling in results.  Usually by the 10 o'clock news, they know the results.
     This last election was right in the middle of spring planting.  The farmers were all more than busy preparing and planting their fields before the next rain. There was no time to run into town to vote.  I was listening to some of the results on the radio the next morning. Here are a few excerpts: (Names of places and people were changed!)   "In the race for city alderman of Noville, the incumbent, Mr. Smith received 3 votes with Mr. Jones receiving 10.  Mr. Doe was a write-in receiving 2 votes." ( I wondered if it were he and his wife that voted for him!) 
     The announcer continued: "In the race for mayor of Hooperton, the top vote getters were Mr. Williams  and Mr. Michaels each receiving 50% of the vote with 1 vote a piece. The clerk announced that the results were contested and there will be a recount."..............but, you'll get that in a small town.