Election coverage begins

Some of the 7WD audience is made up of readers from outside the US. I thought I might report how voting works here — at least how it worked for me. Last time I voted (in a primary), I had guests from England, and they were delighted to come to the polling place with me. So since I couldn’t take you all along, here’s a report…

In the US, polling places are found in all sorts of buildings: town halls, schools, and even churches. My polling place is in the town library. (I don’t have pictures because I’m pretty sure it’s not legal to take photos inside a polling place.) As I approached the library, I noted that police were present to direct traffic and that the newly expanded parking lot was pretty full. This is not normal for elections; usually there are just a few cars and no police. Because political campaigning is not allowed inside a polling place or near the door, there was a gaggle of people near the entrance to the parking lot. It looked like a random smattering of people, holding signs for the presidential election, some local races, and a few ballot questions.

As I entered the building, I was greeted with warm smiles and several tables full of baked goods. Some group (maybe library supporters?) was having a bake sale. While I didn’t shop, it was a pleasant way to enter.

Entering the polling room itself, I walked over to a table where several friendly women were ready to take my information. They asked for my street address, and they then checked me off a list of registered voters in my town. Surprisingly, they didn’t ask for any kind of ID. They handed me a ballot next.

In my polling place, the ballot is the so-called “broken arrow” variety. You have to use a black pen to complete an arrow pointing to the candidate or ballot question answer of your choosing. In other places, voting is electronic (something like an ATM) or a check box or pulling a lever in a voting machine. It can also involve plucking chicken feathers for all I know. Why we can’t have standardized voting procedures in this country is a mystery to me.

Anyway, my ballot had the things you’d expect: choices for US President/Veep, US Senator, US Congress Rep, and so forth. There were also state and local offices to fill, including such exciting jobs as “Register of Deeds”. You can view the choices I had here. By the way, if you look at that, you’ll notice a choice of six candidates for Prez/Veep. Rules vary by state, but there are always minor party candidates. My hope is that someday, we’ll have a viable candidate other than the usual two major parties. For this reason, I normally vote for a minor party candidate (to encourage the idea that we’re not all sheep who choose only Dems or Reps). However, for the first time since, I think, 1992, I voted for a major party candidate. I wanted to be a part of the Obama victory!

Anyway, we also have this peculiarity in the US of voter-initiated ballot questions. This varies widely by state, but votes can place items onto a ballot by petition, sometimes without the concurrence of the state legislature. You can get all sorts of whacky questions this way. All it takes is a few thousand cranks, and anything can go onto a ballot.

In Massachusetts, where I voted, there are three statewide questions. The first (completely ridiculous) ballot question would eliminate the state income tax. While it’s nice in theory not to have to pay taxes, this ignores the many services provided by state government, including public safety, schools, infrastructure, and social welfare. In 2000, this silly question nearly passed, because no one took it seriously enough to mount a campaign against it. Voters never cease to amaze me with their short-sightedness! So this time, a public information campaign was mounted, and I believe most citizens will join me in defeating this effort.

The second question concerned a change in the penalties for possessing marijuana. Under current laws, if the police catch you with a joint, you go to jail. Perhaps for a long time. Someone has gotten the idea that this might not really be doing anyone much good. This ballot question does not legalize marijuana, but it turns the penalties into something more closely resembling a traffic violation (I’m simplifying). Anyway, I voted in favor of this one — not because I think drug use is good, but because I think sending people to prison for using drugs is not good. The latest polls suggest this might narrowly pass, as it has in about 11 other states.

Finally, there was a question that would eliminate dog racing. The arguments against dog racing are that dogs are treated in a cruel manner. I might add my own moral concerns about gambling, though that reason was not given in the campaign materials. Arguments in favor of dog racing are that it’s fun, the dogs aren’t treated THAT badly, and it makes money for the state. I voted in favor of this question, hoping to eliminate dog racing, out of my belief that that moral concerns of dog racing far outweigh the benefits it offers.

Voting took me a minute or two, to mark my ballot and double-check it. When I was finished, I went to another table, where I gave my address again. I then immediately put my marked ballot into an electronic counting machine. Fortunately, the paper ballots are retained, so that a manual recount can be performed if needed. Many of the electronic systems in the US have no paper trail, which is a travesty. The machine told me I was the 1075th person to vote in my district.

That was it! The whole process took maybe five minutes. The volunteers were friendly. There was a police officer (state trooper) stationed near the counting machine to watch over the ballots. He was friendly too!

Now we’ll be watching for results. Stay tuned to 7WD.

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8 Responses

  1. Hi Scott. My polling place is at North School, the next one up Route 152 from the Library where you voted. My experience was almost word for word the same as yours (except there was no bake sale). And I voted the same way as you did on all three Massachusetts ballot questions! (Tempting as a “yes” vote on Question One was, my sense of responsibility prevailed in the end.)

  2. Christin says:

    Congrats on being the 1075th person. As you know, my town doesn’t even have that many registered voters. I was number 162 today.

  3. Charlotte says:

    So Scott, the queues we are seeing on the TV, do they exist or are they faked? Here in Britain I have never seen such queues to vote.

  4. Jessica says:

    My polling experience was great today. Arrived at a fire station around 10:30 am (glad there were no emergencies) and got in line. Within an hour I was out. People were all in an excellent mood. We also used the broken arrow ballots.

    I wish RI had the question of dog racing. We fostered a retired racing greyhound for a month a few years back. They are not treated cruelly at the tracks but they do not live the life of a house pet by any means. They spend much of their day in a small cage. It was sad.

  5. Scott Gunn says:

    Charlotte, I think things are mixed. They’re only going to show the most dramatic queues on the telly (as you Brits like to say), so don’t expect to see my quick polling station.

    I was out today and heard people talking about 90 minute queues in nearby towns. On CNN, they’re talking about four-hour queues. I think turnout is heavy, and the queues are likely to be long, especially in cities.

  6. Ricky says:

    In West Warwick at 10 O’clock. In and out in 15 minutes. I was expecting a line but there was none.

  7. Dave says:

    Thanks for your in depth coverage Scott. I’m sitting here with the BBC on the TV and Seven Whole Days on the computer, hoping for exclusives.

    having aid that it’s just gone midnight here – I probably won’t last much past 2am.

  8. Kat says:

    This is all terribly exciting. I wonder what they need to do over here in the UK to get people to turn out to vote. I’d be delighted to have to queue. Thank you for your coverage.

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