Voting in Alabama: A different experience

My first time experience to vote in this southern state was very different from any voting I had ever experienced in New York State, Connecticut, or in Illinois.  Voting turnout was heavy but the process used left me feeling a bit unsure of the integrity.  It took place in a small elementary school not far from home.  I entered the library which was crammed with people.  There were three tables set up to alphabetically check people in.  It seemed that everyone who lived in this community had a name that began with the letters H-Q.  There was no one checking in at the A-G or the R-Z tables.  The workers had this deer in the headlight stare as they looked at the crowd streaming in.  I got the impression they were not expecting this level of a turn out at 9:30 AM. 

Ahead of me was a young man that I had seen driving in on his motorcycle.  He was wearing a t-shirt that proudly declared his love of the confederate flag.  “Gone from our skies but still flying strong in our hearts.”  

I received my ballot and sent to sit at a table with 4 other people filling in their ballots.  So much for privacy in voting.  In all the other states I voted in, we were ushered to a private place; perhaps behind curtains, perhaps to a screened cubicle where one person and one person only pulled the levers, or punched the chads, or in the case today darkened circles to be read by an electronic machine-the type known for producing major errors. 

My table emptied and an elderly couple sat down next to me.  The gentleman looked at the ballot a little confused and his wife said, “Now mark the Republican slate here.”   

I wanted to speak up and state that no one is to tell another how to vote but I suddenly felt unsure of how I should act in this place. Was I safe here to speak up?  The elderly man looked very confused.  It was apparent to me that he was not sure of where he was or why he was there.  I did not see anyone that I could talk to about this. 

I flashed back to my days of working with developmentally disabled adults and a discussion about having the profoundly impaired adults registered to vote.  While I was a strong advocate for having these people participate as fully as possible in society, I was concerned that any voting they would do would not be from an informed position but a coerced one.   Of course there are many developmentally disabled adults who can and should be able to register to vote. These individuals who operated in the toddler range of maturation and intelligence should not register because their votes would reflect their adult care-givers opinions and not their own.  

Perhaps the elderly gentleman always and consistently voted straight Republican ticket in the years when he was able to clearly think for himself so his wife prompting him was consistent with how he had voted in the past.  But what if this year was different.  What if this year in a moment of mental clarity his opinion differed from his wife’s?  We will never know.  This year however, from my limited perception, his wife voted twice.    

I looked around and there were up against the far corner of the wall a row of screened in cubicles where people could stand and darken their oval choices in semi-privacy.  Every one of them was filled with people.  I looked at the line of people waiting to register their participation and pick up their ballots.  That line filled the small library and wound around and out the building entrance.  There were people leaning up against book cases darkening their choices.  Every table was filled with people. There was no room for a line to even be developed to wait for a screened in cubicle.  It simply did not exist.  I was not convinced that speaking up would have enabled a solution to open up that would limit the low hum of talking between voters as they filled in their choices and perhaps the choices of their neighbors.  It was too late to suggest the gymnasium as a better location for the freedom to vote one’s conscience.

Published in: on November 4, 2008 at 11:50 am  Comments Off on Voting in Alabama: A different experience  
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