Casting votes, now and then

This week, as in years past, we’ll turn on radios and television sets on Tuesday evening, Nov. 4., to listen as the election results come in.

We’ll probably hear commentators filling the space between returns with discussions about different types of electronic voting machines and whether or not they have paper back-ups. It will make me nostalgic for a simpler time.

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey until my teens, when we moved to one of its even smaller suburbs. When the polls closed on election day, the unimposing brick building that was our town hall became a magnet, drawing people of all ages to its front room.

Counting the votes was a community affair. I remember walking down to the town hall with friends one election night. Three or four locals were seated at a long table at the far end of the room. To the right of the table was a free-standing black chalk board with a middle-aged fellow standing beside it, chalk in hand.

On the table was a square wooden box, from which the lady seated at the end of the table removed a paper ballot, studied it, and passed the paper to the person next to her to verify. He, in turn, passed it down the table to the last person, who in a loud, clear voice called out the names beside which Xs had been placed for each office.

If no one who had read the ballot disagreed – they never did – the man with the chalk put a short vertical line under those candidates’ names on the board. There were already several sets of four such lines with a diagonal fifth line drawn through them under each candidate’s name.

As the evening wore on the counts would get more exciting.

When we tired of sitting, we wandered out to the lawn where we could catch up with other friends and talk, share our opinions, greet neighbors and others we knew, and slip back inside to see how the vote was going.

This seemed to be everyone’s pattern and because we were a very small suburb, it was possible to stay until the counting was over and the election decided before going home. Sometimes, if it was a local race with few positions to fill, there was even time to go for an ice-cream soda before calling it a night.

There are other elections in other cities that stick in my memory also. I remember the thrill of casting my first vote when I turned 21. (My candidate lost.) Once, as a young mother in New York State, my vote was contested because my 8-month-old baby had crawled under the voting booth curtain to find mean overzealous worker said it was illegal to have another person in the booth.

My guilt-ridden husband, who was supposed to be watching the child, enlisted another worker’s opinion. He pleaded my case until I was finally allowed to put my ballot in the box.

My first vote in Los Angeles was also the cause for dispute. The feminist movement had begun by then. My husband and I went to the polls. He signed his name first and was handed a ballot. I signed next and was told to put Miss or Mrs. in front of my name.

I pointed out that my husband hadn’t put Mr. in front of his. I was told that a woman must indicate her marital status. I was still objecting when my spouse emerged from the voting booth. He sided with me, but the lady with the ballots was firm. We gave in. It was more important not to lose my right to vote than it was to win the point.

I don’t recall ever having to show my marital status to vote in New Jersey or New York. Was California still so chauvinistic in the late 1960s or did I just get a kooky election worker that day? I don’t know, but it’s laughable to think of that requirement even being suggested today.

Thank you for letting me enjoy some nostalgic moments. Perhaps I’ve triggered some election day memories for you as well.

Enjoy them as I do mine, and remember to mail in your ballot by Tuesday.

Marcia Rudoff

writes the monthly

Senior Outlook for the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center.

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