11.04.08

When I awoke at 4:30 a.m., I knew I wouldn't be seeing my warm bed again for many, many hours. During precinct training, I had been warned to expect to be at the polls until at least 8pm, possibly later depending on the number of last minute voters. I also knew that I wouldn't be getting much info throughout the day. All precinct officials had to remain on-site for the entire day and we were not allowed to discuss politics before the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. Sounds easy enough, but if you have any interest in politics it can be quite challenging.

Parking was in short supply at my precinct, located at the fire station on Pleasant Valley Rd near Duraleigh. I decided to have my dad drop me off (he gets home most mornings between 5 and 6, so he was already awake). I wisely made a pit stop at Starbucks on the way. I arrived at 5:50 a.m. with twelve other election officials. We finished setting up (we set most things up the night before). A word to the wise, duct tape is a wonderful invention, but it doesn't stick to wet bricks. We made a few improvisations when hanging the various directional signs due to the rain. More on that (rain) later.

The polls opened promptly at 6:30 a.m. and I was thrilled to see a steady line of voters outside in the rain. Ok, I wasn't happy about the actual rain, but I was happy that people were willing to stand in the rain to vote. The steady line continued for about an hour. Between 7:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. we had a steady flow of voters, usually three or four at a time. Then, a brief lull for about 10 minutes and the steady flow resumed until around 6:45 p.m. After 6:45, we had a trickle of voters until the last two appeared around 7:28 p.m. (talk about cutting it close). I was surprised at how quickly the time seemed to pass.

For a little over 7 hours, I stood guard at the ballot box, directing voters where to insert their completed ballots and handing out the ever-popular 'I VOTED' stickers. I don't think the stickers have ever been more popular than this year. Apparently, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme and Ben & Jerry's were providing free goodies for anyone with a sticker. You know, it probably prompted at least one person to vote who would have skipped out this year. For that, I'd like to say, "thank you." For the person or persons who only voted to get freebies, "you're embarrassing."

I didn't realize how uncomfortable standing in virtually the same spot for 7 hours would be. I really underestimated that part of the day. I think my back and shoulders are still sore from the experience. After that, I moved to the ballot table. Once you obtain your Authorization To Vote (piece of paper listing your voter registration information...you remember, the thing you had to sign) you stop by the ballot table to get your ballot (obvious, I know, but you'd be surprised how many people tried to go straight to a voting booth with only an ATV in hand). Our precinct only had one ballot type, which made that job a little too easy. I really enjoyed this job the most because I had a chance to interact with the voters. It's dangerous putting two young women at this table, because in time, we made a game out of our position. The ATV listed the voters' age and party affiliation. The game? Guess both. I'd say it was a tie in the end. Funny how some people just ooze the party affiliation and others are much harder to call.

There were a number of highlights to my day. Every time a first-time voter took a fresh ballot or inserted a completed ballot into the ballot box, it gave me goose bumps. It brought back memories of my first Presidential Election as a freshman at NC State waiting in line for hours at Pullen Park. Many first-time voters were seniors in high school or young college students. Those were easy to spot. The adults (over the age of 25) were a little tougher. Those were even better. My favorite was the mother and daughter. Both were voting for the first time. The daughter was 18 and the mother was...old enough to have a teenage daughter. It was a really sweet moment. It was hard to tell who was more excited. Some other moments that stood out for me that day were assisting voters to overcome various impairments. It was heartwarming to see voters assisting one another as well.

Once the polls closed at 7:30 p.m., the precinct judges submitted the ballot results and printed tapes listing the results for our precinct. All in all, turn-out was excellent. We had approximately 2000 registered voters. Of that, 598 voted on November 4. Another 884 participated in early voting. I don't think anyone was disappointed. Lucky for us, the rain, forecasted to be spotty in the morning and taper off in the afternoon...tapered off about 5 minutes before the polls closed. Nice.

It was exciting to see how the races turned out in our little part of the world. Since no one had heard any news from the outside, we were curious how the media was spinning the election so far. Based on our precinct, Obama was barely leading, Perdue was barely losing, and Dole was down for the count. I was anxious to get home and channel flip to see what was going on out there.

When my dad picked me up, Abby was in the backseat. She was set on 90 miles an hour, talking about all the election stuff from the news. She begged my dad to bring her with him. She wanted to see where I helped the voters. When we got home, I let her stay up until 8:30 watching the election results with us. Throughout the election, she has paid attention to the who's-who of politics in 2008. She can name most of the people running for public office on the national, state and local levels - scary, I know. She also decided that she liked Obama early on. Part of that may be influence from me and her dad, but I'm not complaining and I doubt he did either. My dad, on the other hand, supported McCain. Abby asked him on Tuesday night if he still liked McCain. He told her he did, but he liked Obama too. Her response? "Good, 'cause he's gonna win." I couldn't have said it better myself. Once Abby went to bed, I stayed up just long enough to hear CNN call the race. That was good enough for me. I was exhausted.

When Abby woke up the next morning, she was running a fever. Even so, the first thing she asked me was who won. Yep, there's no way her parents could deny her. Funny, I don't remember politics being part of the punnent squares, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention that day in Biology.

I'm very excited about the next four (or eight) years. It makes the next 70+ days almost tolerable. I did ask my parents if they ever imagined that anyone other than a white male would be elected in their lifetime. Coming of age in the 1960's and living in Washington, DC beginning in 1968, neither thought it was possible. I think I held out hope that it would happen in my lifetime, but I never dreamed it would happen this soon.

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