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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Pulling the Lever
I voted for the first time in New York this morning. Actually, it was my first American in-person voting, because in Washington I always took the preferred Northwest route and voted absentee.
I much prefer the quiet contemplation of absentee voting—sitting on the sofa while the television provides some background entertainment, carefully making choices about the political future (i.e., slavishly copying out the Stranger’s voting recommendations), and then making sure the envelope gets into the mail stream in time.

The polling station was a bit of a zoo. A mere block from our house, the school was surrounded by glad-handers and literature distributors. I was handed no less than 12 leaflets (in the space of approximately two seconds), nine of which were glossy print jobs. I also shook the hand of a candidate’s wife (I voted for her husband) and met a candidate’s niece (I voted for her uncle).

Inside, it was very un-zooy. It was 8 o'clock, so the place wasn’t very crowded, even though there was only one booth for my "district." (I’m not quite sure what that equates to, but I’d guess it’s just a block or two.) Since I had never gone behind curtains to do my democratic duty before, I asked for a primer from the skeletal guy who was taking the signatures and so on, but the machine was so otherworldly, I reckon I’d still have needed a helping hand even if I was a Chicagoan who had been voting since my fifth birthday.

It was more like a Rube Goldberg device than a reliable-seeming voting mechanism. After I’d made my choices (and I still feel a bit ashamed about voting for both the candidates whose relatives had looked me in the eye and asked for my vote—it seems so retail), I shifted the giant lever, and pulled back the curtains, but I confess I felt rather unsure. I needed the reassurance of a piece of paper to go put in a box or something—now I know why the anti-voting-machine people are positively Nicholson Baker-ish in the paper fetishism.

"Will my vote really count?" I asked the gaunt guy, and he assured me it would. You'd think I'd've learned that lesson from last year's Washington gubernatorial race.