I don’t have a lot of memories about voting. I can’t even remember my voting locations from most years, let alone call up a mental image or anecdote.
But in recent years I’ve had a few voting moments that have stayed with me. In 2008, I voted for Barack Obama at a school built on the lot where Frederick Douglas had lived in Rochester, N.Y., making my vote that day feel especially momentous.
And in 2016 I stood in a long line at Mount Hope Cemetery to place my “I Voted Today” sticker on Susan B. Anthony’s gravestone. That’s a tradition in Rochester, where Susan B. lived, but the Woodstock-like atmosphere that developed at the site that day was something new. It was a spontaneous celebration anticipating that Hillary Clinton was about to become the first woman president.
We all know how that turned out.
Today (Oct. 24) was the beginning of early voting in New York State. Given the pandemic, I had applied for and received a mail-in ballot. But I decided not to use it, to instead join my wife for a ceremonial morning of waiting in line and voting on this first day, with others who were equally anxious to have their voices heard.
We arrived at a nearby polling place in Genesee Park a little before noon and got in line. Understand that around here, we’re not accustomed to waiting in line to vote. Maybe that’s one reason I don’t have a lot of voting memories. We literally walk in, go straight to the person who checks your voter registration, then vote. It’s over in minutes —seconds if you have an especially efficient registration person.
So this was something different, granting us some level of kinship with those in other states who wait as long as eight hours (or more?) to vote. As it turned out, our line was kind of festive. A band played funky jazz for the voters in waiting. League of Women Voters representatives walked about offering free water and granola bars. The woman in front of us shared how she had a mail-in ballot and decided to bring it here on the first day, to be sure it gets delivered. The guy behind us was having a birthday party tonight, and you could only drink beer if you showed your “I Voted Today” sticker.
After about 30 or 40 minutes, we got into the voting room, where one of the registration ladies called out, “This man is voting for the first time,” eliciting a big cheer.
We cast our ballots, then went out to brunch where my wife read an online anecdote that struck a chord. A person was driving by a group of people waiting in line to vote and called out, “How long have you been waiting?” One person shouted back: “Four years.”
A big cheer went up.