Tuesday, November 04, 2008

how i voted in the us elections

ok, well i didn't really vote but i went in the booth with my wife who is a bona fide american citizen and witnessed the process - quite sobering and perhaps of interest for those observing from across the seas. first impressions of our polling station in upper west side manhattan was good - was clearly marked (a local school) and there were no lines. cnn is reporting 3 hour queues in florida and apparently the whole of pennsylvania is becoming one enormously long line of frustrated mewling wannabe votees.

the process of voting in us elections involves being registered, finding your local voting station, knowing your precinct number (ours was 74, courtesy of a lady in the building), and then registering at a table inside. there were probably double the number of staff to voters in our station, and so we didn't have a hard time finding where to go.

but it did take a full 5mins before the lady found rita's name on the list and filled out a slip which gave her a voting number - hers was 211. there was a bit of back and forth between the staff about whether she'd filled out the form correctly, and whether it was neat enough and whether registering people on the list was more important than dealing with questions. not exactly slick, but i guess they only do this once every 4 years and these are unpaid volunteers.

the slip of paper was then given to us and we got into a queue to give that to another lady a few feet away, where we stood waiting for the chap to leave the booth. there was a set of lights on the booth with little obvious functionality - the lady told us to go in, but the guy was still inside.

so we go in to the booth area, shrouded in heavy black plastic bag material for secrecy, and are presented with a vast machine. i suspect these were designed by an epileptic monkey let loose in a tool shed at some point towards the end of the nineteenth century. there is a Big Grey Box, a Big Red Lever, and instructions. very mechanical, very retro. no chance of those nefarious electronic machines being tampered with in this outpost.

you have to flip the BRL over to the side to allow your vote to count then flip various mechanical switch from UP to SIDE next to your choice for president. there was one for obama and 3 for mccain -- he was also confusingly on the conservatives and independent columns. then there was another set of levers for supreme court justices. and then, randomly positioned on the bottom right hand side was another choice - it was a proposition 1 amendment or something about veterans rights. i could hardly understand the issue or figure out what i wanted, but thankfully the voting was done by the lawyer in the family who knew what to do.

and we were done - after spending about 5mins within the plastic bin liners. not exactly the white heat of technology, all rather manual, amateur and not really clear, but it did seem to work ok. we were in an affluent well educated neighborhood and the process was neither smooth nor transparent for the workers and voters alike. i can see how more people needing to vote would cause huge delays. we then went over to starbucks and claimed our rightful free cup of coffee that they give to all voters. let's hope that's just the start of the good times rollin.

so, in the end i didn't vote in the us elections. but if i had done, i'd have flipped barack's switch with pride.