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LET’S TALK: Civic duty changes in strange '20

by Helaine Williams | November 1, 2020 at 2:28 a.m.

I saw the images of the early voters in other states and shook my head in admiration of their fortitude.

Yes, I could understand people's eagerness to vote in the 2020 presidential election, what with everyone having such strong political opinions and the side-eye being given to the mail-in voting process. And my husband, like so many this particular election, wanted to get the act of voting out of the way.

But, geesh, the stories and images of people waiting literally hours to vote threw me for a loop. With so many people voting early, why couldn't we just wait until Regular Voting Day ... which, of course, happens Tuesday? I figured that on Tuesday, there'd be so few people left to vote that we could do a quick in-and-outer. All we'd encounter would be a few tumbleweeds and 12th-hour campaign workers who'd force upon us brochures that we'd be invited to pitch into a specially marked trash can set up in the precinct. Why on earth didn't Dre want to wait for all that fun and adventure?

And besides, while waiting as long to cast my vote as some of those hardy souls waited, I figured I would need:

◼️ A portable chair for my moody lower back.

◼️ A portable restroom on a rolling, tow-able platform.

◼️ A portable air conditioner to mitigate hot flashes.

◼️ Coffee in some form.

◼️ A portable smoothie bar in case I happened to be in line at noon, the time of my first meal of the day for intermittent fasting.

◼️ Music to keep me in a good waiting mood.

Dre did agree that Day One of early voting would probably be akin to waiting to get on a ride during Free Admission Day at Disney World. We stayed away. Ditto on Day Two.

So on Oct. 21, we headed to early-vote at Central Arkansas Library System's Williams Library branch. We were a bit nearer the main early-voting venue, the Pulaski County Regional Building near Markham Street and Broadway. However, we feared a long line putting us out in the middle of one of those busy streets ... and in danger of becoming roadkill for drivers speeding to work or to Broadway's popular Fast Food Restaurant Row.

Our voting experience turned out to be roughly 90 minutes long. There was a line, but it actually had an end. Everybody was well behaved. I did have my to-go cup of coffee but managed to do without the folding chair (although it was in the car trunk nearby), the portable restroom, air conditioner and smoothie bar. As it happened, there was music. From across the street we were were serenaded by inspirational soul/R&B music from the '70s and the '80s. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes told everybody to wake up. Whitney Houston told us the children were our future. Marvin Gaye asked us what was going on and implored us to "save the babies." The Singer I Shall Not Name — having caught flak as a writer for separating his musical talent from the crimes associated with him when he died in 2009 — reminded us that we need to be looking at the man in the mirror, asking him to change his ways.

Nowadays, the voting machines seem to get more sophisticated every election. From the real-school voting booths with the no-nonsense curtains and clanky levers, we went to those flimsy, blue plastic-dominated little stands. We'd take the string-attached pencils where, just like taking standardized tests at school, we'd fill in the little ovals for the candidates we voted for. (Bet those pencils were No. 2.) We'd then take our ballots to a scanner that greedily snatched the ballots from our fingers and whisked our votes into political history.

Last time I voted, there was a touch screen. This time, the screens were bigger and even more "Star Trek"-y. I was grateful that the material was large enough for older eyes to see, but yikes, there was no level of privacy: Someone could stand behind somebody, see who they voted for and potentially start a scene with their fellow citizen for "voting for that rat/crook/(bleep)." But nobody peeked and became upset at my voting choices. There was still a greedy scanning machine that snatched the ballots from our fingers and whisked our votes into political history. And that was that. We went home regretting only that we'd still have a couple of weeks of negative political TV commercials to endure.

To those of you waiting until the Big Day to cast your vote, may you do so without any trouble and may you not have been shamed by anyone rubbing in their "I voted early" sticker. May you especially not have encountered anyone rubbing it in with a homemade sticker bragging that "I stood seven hours in the heat, without having showered or put on makeup, to vote early." You're just as good as the early voters, darn it. Keep your head high. And God bless America.

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