So, my faith in America was shaken today. Not because of the outcome of the election (which has not yet been announced), but because of what had happened to me at the polling place. On my way into the local college, where my ballot had awaited me I had encountered a young lady who had been adorned with a “Maloney” name tape. I inquired as to which building was the correct polling location. She happily pointed and as I walked away she yelled, “Vote Maloney”, in a manner befitting an afterthought, rather than an exclamation. I chuckled and continued on my mission.
As I reached the 100 foot distance to the building I noticed a man with “Vote Maloney” pamphlets at the doorway. He asked if I was going to vote and I replied that I was, and further asked him to cease and desist from violating the election laws by moving outside of my constitutional zone of protection (the 100 ft. mark). He started to argue and I told him he was in violation of the law and if I see him upon exiting I will be following up with the local police department (it later appeared as though he had heeded my advice).
As I entered the cafeteria, where the voting booths were, I was immediately overcome with the sense that things were beginning to look like amateur hour. The cafeteria was packed with students (on Election Day? Yes on that holy day). The folks staffing the tables were disorganized and could not even bring themselves to indicate by a hand-drawn sign which half of the alphabet their side of the table dealt with. I was annoyed, but not so surprised. My spirits remained high.
I was directed to another table and did so advance. When I arrived, I had been in line behind a man who was receiving instructions on how to fill in the circles on the ballot sheet. Now it was my turn. The poll worker at the table went to look for my name on the registry. I pulled out my New York State Driver’s License and indicated that my address was current and I believed I was at the right table. He then repeated my name and asked, “weren’t you here already”? I replied that he was likely referring to my brother, who had worked an overnight double shift and had arrived several hours earlier. Then he found my name in his book. I noticed that my brother’s name was not listed there as well. As co-habitants, I would think it would be there, but it wasn’t. It happens.
He then asked me if I needed directions and I responded that it couldn’t hurt. So, he instructed me how to darken in the circles all the way and that I should choose one from each column or none at all, but not two. I watched his fingers as he pointed to what would be a sample selection. He seemed to make the effort to point to each party. As a political scientist, I look for such indicators of persuasion. Thus far, there had been none. Then it happened. He said what I thought I would never hear in my lifetime. He proceeded to implore, “do me a favor, don’t vote for this guy [Maloney]. He’s a carpetbagger from New York City. He’s not even from this area. I’m a Democrat [so is Maloney, and ironically so am I- I’m a Democrat In Name Only, or DINO] and I’m not voting for him.” I’m sure he could see that my face turned pale. The disbelief had supplanted the elation that I had felt moments earlier.
What the hell just happened?! I then proceeded to the curtained privacy booth and quickly, but meticulously bubbled in my selections. I then went to the scanning station and submitted my ballot to the kid operating it. I say kid, because he’s my neighbor’s son, who didn’t recognize me until I mentioned that I live next door. He placed my ballot in the machine and it forced itself back out. He told me that I’d have to re-do the black circles, whereby I looked at the perfectly filled circles and told him to try it again. He then looked over my “secret” ballot and submitted it again. It took. My vote was in (I suppose). I never saw him press the green “cast” button, but who am I to tell the amateurs how to do their job?
I was still in shock over what had occurred two minutes prior. I decided to grab some food, since I was already in the cafeteria. This way I could think about the appropriate course of action. I sat down to eat, but didn’t feel hungry anymore. I then called the Orange County Board of Elections and reported the incident. They asked what the offender’s name was and I walked right up to him and read it off to the person with whom I was speaking. The man took notice. That was fine, I meant for him to know that he had been reported. I hung up the phone and started my meal.
No less than a minute into my meal, the offender (I’m taking the high road and not naming/shaming him, although he deserves it) had approached me. He asked if I had reported him for telling me who to vote for. I told him that I absolutely did. He then proceeded to justify his action by explaining to me that I was the only one he told to do such a thing. I responded by telling him that I was reporting him for violating my rights and the law. He responded with, “what are they gonna do, dock my pay”? That was the wrong question to ask.
What Mr. XYZ didn’t realize was that I have a firm grasp of the law (as I had enforced these very laws as a police officer), am trained in political science, served this country’s military to uphold the very constitution that he just spit on, and was of the opinion that if anything an apology would have been most appropriate. I said no more.
When I left, I was angrier than I can ever remember being. It got worse, however. I called my brother, who had by now been rolling out of bed from his long shift. I asked him if he had met with a man of similar description, as the man seemed to remember my brother. Not only did my brother remember him, but he was incensed at the experience that he had with the guy. My brother then told me that his name was not in their records. The very same offender handed him a piece of paper and told him to write down in his choices and place it in a plastic bag as a provisional ballot. No signature or accountability whatsoever! (If this is the case, anyone could just walk in and announce that he/she is Mr./Mrs. Whosiwhatsit and request a provisional ballot).
When I heard what my little brother had to say, I demanded that he call the Board of Elections as well. He did so on his way in for yet another shift. They apologized and said that his vote will not count and he should return to the polling place. He then informed them that it would be impossible, as he works in a prison and will be arriving there shortly to begin a shift that will carry him beyond the end of the voting day. I then called the Board of Elections back to follow up with a supervisor. I spoke with Ms. Louise, who told me that they couldn’t remove the perpetrator from his post due to staff shortages. Then she asked if I would like to replace him. I told her that it would cheapen the integrity of my complaint if I did so.
Finally, I spoke with Commissioner Susan Bahren. She told me that the man would be removed from his post. I told her that this was not a political matter, but one of constitutional and state law. My brother and I were violated four hours apart. It is reasonable to assume that others may have been as well. Further, it makes a citizen wonder what else goes on in other locations across the county, or the country for that matter.
I thought back to the great pride I had when I was a Deputy Sheriff and a local police officer and was charged with the great and noble responsibility of delivering ballots from polling stations to the Board of Elections. I recalled how I had dealt with reports of electioneering in a fair and judicious manner, blind to the complainants’ parties and caring only whether or not the law had been violated. I have always believed that the one sacred place in America was the voting booth. I am not a religious person. Suffice it to say that my religion is democracy itself and the polls are my place of worship. My faith was shattered today. When I had departed from the Holy American Church of Democracy, I felt all of the warmth leave my body. I was left with a coldness inside that the freezing temperature outside could not compete with.