Wed Nov 7th, 2007 at 07:59:36 AM EST
When I got the notice that my polling place had been changed, I was alarmed to say the least. When I saw that it was in the next city over, I was outraged. When I read that it was in the lobby of the Assembly of God Church, I was filled with dread and knew no good could come of it.
These were all the ingredients of a disaster in the making.
My first thoughts were along the lines of "WTF?!? Isn't there supposed to be some sort of separation of church and state thingy in this country? (my impromptu outraged thoughts aren't excessively articulate)... Surely, voting in a church is the THE one line that should never be crossed. Is this a Bush thing? When did it start?"
But I told myself I was being prejudiced and irrational in my trepidation about the new polling place. That the words "Assembly of God" were coloring my outlook. That I was just suffering from a knee-jerk church aversion reaction. Think of it as just another public gathering spot, I told myself.
Little did I dream that the reality was going to be so much worse than I imagined.
Voting's always been a simple enough thing and yesterday's local election should have been no different. Sure, everyone's all hot on the absentee ballots right now, but I've resisted. Those who know me are astounded. The mail-in vote seems tailor-made for one such as myself they say.
And I admit that deadlines make me uneasy. I hate New Year's, for instance, always feeling the whole midnight thing is too definite. So I have to concede that I might not appear to be a person who wants to be trapped into voting on the actual day.
But, you know, there's something about the ritual of voting that I like. It's always been a pleasant experience. My usual polling place was in a school mere blocks from me -- I could zip over there and be in and out in ten minutes if I was rushed or running late, but I also had the secure feeling that I could walk there if necessary.
Or, I could dawdle around and chat with people over by the bakery table. Did I mention the bakery? The kids from the school would have a bake sale every year and there were all sorts of tasty things, very reasonably priced. Where else can you get a fresh Rice Krispie Treat for a quarter? It was practically the highlight of my year.
There was no real reason to think the church would be any different, was there? Perhaps they'd even have baked goods -- or a potluck! Aren't churches big on those?
And, honestly, wasn't I being a bit unreasonable about it being in a different city? After all, the boundary is, technically, right up the street. I googled it and found it was 1.6 miles away on a major thoroughfare. OK, not actually walkable for people without cars, but perhaps I shouldn't be so militant about that sort of thing.
I'd had an appointment earlier in the day, and felt a shiver of apprehension when I exited to go home and found the evening setting in complete with uncharacteristic wisps of fog. They'd cleared by the time I set out to vote, but still, I was uneasy -- the road to the church was lonely, dark, and somewhat ominous.
I suppose it was too much to hope for that there'd be an illuminated sign that said "vote here" with, perhaps, some flags and balloons. But I really did expect to be able to recognize a church somewhere, possibly with "Assembly of God" visible somewhere in the vicinity. But of course there was no such thing.
Instead, a road which I at first passed, then went back to since it was the only thing lit up for as far as the eye could see. There was a digital billboard at the turn, but it was only flashing things about an early school dismissal and an upcoming auction. Nothing about either voting or God.
I entered what seemed to be some sort of complex. Straight ahead was an imposing structure with, as it turned out, the exact same street address spotlighted on the wall as was helpfully printed on my voter registration card. The sign said it was a high school.
There wasn't a soul in sight, nor any flags. I drove around the building and saw a side entrance, equally deserted. Scanning the surrounding buildings, this one still seemed the most hopeful, so I decided to go inside and see if there was anyone to ask.
As I walked up the rather daunting steps, I noticed that each landing was made of little bricks and I stopped to read them.
Of course. Donors. These were the lowly Silver Donors. As I ascended, I passed the Gold ones and, finally, the Platinum Donors, that much closer to heaven apparently.
The inside was as abandoned as the outside, with still not even a piece of paper with the word "vote" scrawled on it with an arrow.
I finally found a lone girl, evidently a student, sitting alone in a corridor, crying, and whispering desperately into a cell phone. Normally, I wouldn't dream of interrupting such a thing, but dammit, I was being disenfranchised here! People had died for this privilege! I asked her where the voting was. She didn't know, but thought it was in the church "over there."
I got back in the car and headed in the "over there" direction she'd pointed out. Nothing but acres of parking lot and, in the far distance, the warm twinkling of an apartment complex. I imagined them filled with happy, smug people. People who had voted early in the day. People who at this very moment were probably sitting by fires, well-fed after their dinners, perhaps even enjoying a warm baked good.
I decided to venture over to the other "over there," and cruised aimlessly for awhile around various other abandoned buildings -- more parts of the high school, a library-looking thing, another entire school, elementary this time, and even what appeared to be a funeral home, complete with white columns.
I attempted to drive around the elementary school, and found myself on a dirt road, surrounded by trees, strangely isolated and, somehow, rather evocative of the movie Deliverance.
There was even a street number entirely different from the one on my voter card.
I was somewhat reassured by this sign. Could people who advertised Purple Cows be all bad?
Nevertheless, I was infuriated -- where the hell was I supposed to vote? Where was the flag? Why wasn't there a sign anywhere? I decided to drive home and find out what the hell was going on. I called the church. Nothing but a recorded message saying the office was closed. I angrily punched the number listed on the back of my card for the county elections office. I'll spare you the details of the conversation, but suffice it to say I probably should apologize someday to some woman named Evalo.
After much ranting, holding, and hearing Evalo type, I was assured that an election official was heading out directly to "the freaking church" to see why the assembly was so unhelpful. I hopped in the car and tore back there, extremely unhappy with the idea that I might have to go to another location and cast a provisional ballot, or a "provincial" one as Evalo called it. Poor thing was quite shaken up by something...
In any case, upon returning to the scene, there in the parking lot I beheld an angel. More accurately, a woman wearing Birkenstocks with thick socks, obviously a democrat. If anyone could find a ballot in this godforsaken God complex, it was obviously going to be her. She came through, saying she thought the room was around the side of the library-looking building. Apparently, this was the actual church. I suppose they don't want to appear ostentatious.
Upon circling the car in that direction, I realized how I'd missed it the first time -- the road leading past the side door is blocked off, leading one to a circular hotel-like driveway at the front of the pillared mausoleum, or whatever the hell that thing was.
I still didn't see anything, but parked on faith. Finally -- ON FOOT! -- I found the right place. At long last, a SIGN! Perhaps not actually from God, but a sign nonetheless.
So I voted. There was no bakery. I'll be calling my election officials in the morning.