When did you vote?
If your answer is today, it might mean you’re one of the lucky ones who still live in a state where you go to the polls to vote. You live in a state where there is still an election DAY.
I live in Washington state. We have 20 election days. We are a 100-percent vote-by-mail state.
By law, election officials must mail out ballots within 20 days of the official “election day” and we can vote any day we choose, right up until midnight today.
Today is the final deadline to stamp your ballot (which I’ve always felt is like a tax on voting) and mail it back to the county. We can also choose to drop our ballots in an official “ballot box,” usually located at city halls or libraries. There aren’t a whole lot of them so they supplement the boxes with “ballot vans” on the three days leading up to the official election day.
Boxes, vans and ballots filled out at kitchen tables: No polls.
Our town got a van. It was outside city hall and I didn’t even have to get out of the car. (I’m not sure you have to for the boxes either.) I simply drove through, rolled down my window and handed my ballot to a person who deposited it for me in a cardboard box. I think I said hello and thank you, which is a far cry from the conversations I used to have with poll workers.
I did wait to vote until today. I like it that way. If I vote on any of the other 20 days I feel disengaged from the sign wavers on the corner working so hard for my vote. And what if something were to happen in those 20 days to change my vote?
I miss the polls.
I held out as long as I could. While we’ve had the option of voting by mail since 2005, it wasn’t required in my county until 2008 or 2009. Up until then, we had to “opt in” to vote by mail. Otherwise it was business as usual and we still went to the polls. In 2011, the legislature passed a law requiring the whole state to vote by mail. I believe we were the second state in the nation to do so. Oregon was the first.
Now it’s either vote by mail, or don’t vote.
See that picture? That’s me (or rather, the back of me) voting at a poll in 2004. I brought my kids along, as I did every election day since they were babes in arms, for an educational experience and to impress upon them the importance of voting. Voting at home just doesn’t leave the same impression on them — or me.
I liked it best when there was a line to stand in. It felt important — like I was making a small sacrifice of my time for the good of my country. I remember standing in a line that snaked around the block for the first election I was eligible to vote in. That was 1992 and I was in college. My kids will not have that experience.
I liked it when there were neighbors to greet. I liked the cheat sheet I brought with me and had folded in my hands. I liked saying hello to the poll workers and asking how their day was going. I liked signing the registration book while they watched and checked my signature.
I liked the butterflies I felt as I stepped up to the voting booth, the excitement of seeing the candidates names, of double-checking that I’d punched the right holes. I liked feeding my ballot, with my own hand, into the counting machine and reading the counter to see how many others had voted that day. I liked calling my husband and reminding him he needed to leave work early to make it to the polls before they closed.
I liked being handed my “I Voted” sticker and wearing it not only as a badge of honor, but also as a reminder to others to not forget to vote.
I liked watching the election results roll in on television knowing that my ballot was being counted, that it wasn’t languishing in a mail box because I waited until the deadline to mail it. My vote counted right away. Of course, votes still count, as long as they have a post stamp before midnight. But some of the immediacy is lost knowing it hasn’t been delivered yet. That’s kind of funny in a world that’s all about immediacy these days.
Look at the happy children in that picture. Two of them are mine and one a dear family friend. Don’t they look like they’re getting a good education?
“Yeah, I remember dancing that day,” my daughter laughed when I showed her the picture this afternoon. “A photographer asked if he could take our picture and told us we’d be in the newspaper!”
The picture was taken by a news photographer from The Seattle Times. It was in the paper the next day. We sent copies to the grandparents. They were proud.
“Do you remember why we were there?”
“Oh yeah, to vote. You always made us go. You said it was educational.”
Hey, they both became dancers so maybe they’ll both become voters, too.
We have the picture to prove it.