Note: This is a fictional account of voting in North Carolina. The state was chosen as a state that is far away from Oregon and does not have the vote by mail system we have in Oregon. The author has not, nor does he ever, have plans on moving to North Carolina. I also want to add, if anyone from North Carolina reads this and finds my portrayal of your state offensive, perhaps we can open a dialogue about it. Really, I played a lot of stereotypes here, and I don’t know how many are actually true. So yeah – let’s chat!
It was a foggy October morning. I had just moved to North Carolina a few months ago and was excited about voting in my first election in my new home state. I made sure to register on time, with my correct address and my political party of choice. All my t’s were crossed, all my I’s were dotted. I just needed to sit back, relax, and wait for the postal carrier to bring my ballot, along with the junk mail and bills they usually bring. I waited for a few weeks. By October 25th, I started to worry. What if I filled out my voter registration wrong? What if my address was wrong? What if the post office accidentally sent it to my previous residence in Oregon? My hands began to sweat, my body began to shake. I decided I needed to call someone.
After I got home from work, I called the county voting office, which gave me a polite message saying they were only open from 10-3, Tuesday through Friday. Stupid government agencies! Oh well, I’ll call tomorrow during my lunch break. The next morning, sandwich in one hand, and phone in another I called again, only to be put on hold. I consumed my lunch and listened to the Muzak – patiently waiting for someone to answer my call. I waited 30 minutes and my lunch break was over. I decided to wait for a few minutes more, when finally someone answered.
“Eeeyello, Mecklenburg County votin’, ow might I elp ya’ll?” – a male voice with a distinct, southern accent rang out.
“Umm,” I said sheepishly, “I never received my ballot. What do I do?”
“Son, what r ya’ll talkin’ bout?”
“In the mail, I never got my ballot in the mail. Shouldn’t I have gotten it by now?”
“Yer not from these parts, are you?”
“No – I’m from Oregon. Why?”
“Oreeegone? Shoot. Well I don’t know what they do up there, but ‘round here we don’t send no ballots in the mail.”
“Umm….how do you vote then?”
“Boy – you don’t even know how to vote? You gotta go to a polin’ place from 9 AM to 5 PM.”
“Umm…that’s odd, but when in Rome I guess. Where are the poling places?”
After a short interchange of information, he directed me to a school near my house. I vaguely, back in the 80s, remember standing in line with my mom at a school. Maybe this is what she was doing.
I made arrangements with my boss to vote before work. He insisted I be in by 11, I figured that would be plenty of time. I figured wrong. When I arrived on Election Day at 8:45, there was a massive line. It was like the lines I saw in Portland, waiting to get into concerts. Strike that – these were not concertgoers. These were people from all walks of life, different ages, different ethnicities, different politics – way more diverse than a crowd waiting for a New Pornographers show.
At 9 AM sharp, the doors opened. They let a few people in at a time. There was probably around 150 people in front of me…I had no idea how long my wait was going to be. I sat on the ground, but an officer came up to me and barked “NO SITTING!” So I rolled my eyes and got up to my feet once more. Meanwhile a slow drizzle of people walked into the school. Finally after an hour and a half, it was my turn.
I walked into the door and to a table. A lady asked a few questions, glanced at my ID, and handed me my ballot. I was instructed to silently walk into a nearby booth. I felt more like I was taking a driver’s test at the DMV, and less like I was exercising my constitutional right to vote.
As I reached my booth, I got my cheat sheet out and realized there were things on this ballot that I hadn’t even thought about! Geez, how do they expect you to know every little item, every little race, and every little measure on the ballot? I wanted to say to the next booth – hey, what did you get for number 8? I mean, I was in a school, and I felt like I was taking a test after all! Then I looked over my shoulder – the officer who barked at me earlier was staring straight at me, almost wanting an excuse to throw me out. I decided I better play by their rules for the time being.
After I turned in my ballot, it was nearly 10:50, and I was supposed to be into work by 11. I was not going to make it. I raced to work and arrived ten minutes late. My boss, angry at my tardiness walks in and says “This is why I don’t vote – my time is too precious.”
I miss a lot of things about Oregon. I miss the coast, I miss sunsets over the Pacific, I miss the weather, I miss the people, and I miss recycling. Today, I learned of one more thing I miss – I miss voting by mail. I miss the convenience of filling out my ballot at my leisure, and dropping it off whenever I had a moment to do so. I miss not having to stand in line like it was the 80s and we were voting for Regan. I miss not being barked at by officers who were overly stimulated on equal parts power and, I’m guessing caffeine. I miss not getting ridiculed or hassled, all because I want to cast my voice. All the pain and horror experienced casting my vote in North Carolina, could have been easily avoided by implementing a vote by mail system. This truly was an American Voting Horror Story.