Fight the Power. Stay Informed.
"Confessions of an Accidental Patriot"
By Brock N. Meeks
The polls here in Virginia opened at 6 a.m. Not wanting to take chances being stuck in a long line, I adjusted my morning schedule to make sure I could be at the polling place, my children’s elementary school, just as the polls opened.
Nice plan, didn’t work. By the time I drove the four blocks to the school there were more than 100 people in line. It took me 45 minutes just to sign in and another 15 to step into a voting “booth” (a small pedestal with three sides about 18 inches high, just enough to keep the touch screen of my voting machine hidden from the prying eyes of the nearest impressionable voter).
But that’s not the real story this morning … that all began nearly the moment I stepped out of my car.
Heading into the school building and muttering something about “just like Disneyland with no ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ payoff at the end,’” I nearly collided with a man clearly intent on placing a piece of bright yellow paper in my hand.
“Sample ballot?” he called out with all the singsong rhythm of a Bourbon Street barker hawking strip-club seductions.
“No thanks,” I said gruffly.
Apparently his clone, standing about 25 feet away, didn’t catch our exchange, because he pitched me nearly the same line but with an important difference. “Care for a sample Democratic ballot?”
These so-called “sample” ballots have every Democratic candidate marked with an “X” because, I can only guess, these clever Democratic operatives don’t believe people in their own party are smart enough to recognize which candidates are actually running as Democrats. Or they believe Republicans are so weak-willed or stupid that if they see a “sample” ballot with only Democrats marked they might actually march into the polling place and vote for “their guy.”
I breezed by this political hack but suddenly stopped. I turned and walked back to the first guy.
“Is that a Democratic ‘sample’ ballot, too?” I asked. The barker blinked. “What a cheapjack little trick. You should be ashamed of yourself.” I turned and headed again to the polling place. As I brushed by the clone, I said, “Are you sure you’re 150 feet from the polling place?” He answered, “You only have to be 40 feet!”
“Then back up,” I said, and went inside.
Standing in line people were joking, lamenting the lack of caffeine and waxing nostalgic about elections past. “Last election, I came in at 6 and was outta here by 6-oh-3,” the guy behind me said.
Several people were examining their yellow “sample” ballots.
A cheery election official (he was actually wearing a badge that said “election official” ... I’m using journalistic license and assuming he was “cheerful,” given the smile on his face) was collecting the sample ballots from people who were done with them, because there were no trash bins in the school hallway where we were all lined up.
And then with this handful of “sample” ballots, the election official did an astounding thing. “Does anyone need a sample ballot?” he said in a loud voice, holding up a fistful of the yellow, Democratic “sample” ballots. “Anyone?!”
About a dozen people held up their hands, and he passed out the ballots ... and I nearly swallowed my tongue.
I turned quickly to the guy behind me. “Excuse, please hold my place in line, I’d like to talk to this guy,” I said, motioning to the election official. I didn’t even wait for an answer.
I cornered the official, a smallish, older gentleman — who, had age not stooped him, would have stood eye-to-eye with me.
“Excuse me, sir, but I don’t believe it’s legal for you to be handing out those ballots,” I said. He looked clearly perplexed and a little offended. When I pointed out they were “Democratic” sample ballots, well, I thought he was going to be ill.
“Oh dear lord,” he said, and he licked his lips, which had suddenly become very dry. “You’re absolutely right, young man, thank you very much.”
He hustled out into the hallway, negotiating a tricky corner on the slick linoleum with all the moves of an all-star halfback. By the time I’d reinserted myself into the line, he’d already collected all the sample ballots he distributed, apologized and explained himself.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I would have done the same thing had this been a Republican “sample” ballot.