Monday, November 1, 2010

Old Meets New...

Tomorrow is Election Day. It’s an especially significant one here in New York City. Oh, not because of any particular person on the ballot, or some earth-shattering proposition that will radically alter our lives. No, tomorrow is the day New Yorkers vote with paper ballots for the first time in a general election, joining the vast majority of Americans in voting that way. All my adult life I have cast my ballots, as it were, in an antiquated machine with a big red lever that closed a shower-like curtain. In the privacy of the voting booth now, there were little black levers next to the names of candidates, which I pulled to cast my votes. Xs would appear upon my making these selections. The final voting act—pulling that large red lever again—both officially recorded my votes and, equally important, opened the curtain to let me out.

I must confess to being fond of the old machines, but can certainly see why their time has come and gone. New York City—the most renowned metropolis in the world—has got to get with the program and vote in step with the twenty-first century. Still, I have this lingering fear about what tomorrow will bring, and it doesn’t revolve around any worries of possibly soiling my ballot and disenfranchising myself. I will figure out the thing. After all, I have rather competently filled in ovals before, starting in the third grade or thereabouts. But it’s the mayhem that I presume will besiege the polling place that fills me with some dread.

From what I've experienced through the years, things are more often than not discombobulated in the vicinity of voters and voting, particularly when there’s reasonably high turnout. The paid volunteers who oversee this annual extravaganza are a diverse hodgepodge of locals with a median age of eighty-seven, I’d guess. I might also add that general crankiness and conspicuous hearing loss appear to be prerequisites for many of the positions. And then, of course, there are the voters from all walks of life and of all ages. When the aforementioned poll workers and the voting populace butt heads, it’s rarely pretty, and even less likely to be so this year with the new voting apparatus in place.

For a whole host of reasons, I have never been especially confident in the integrity of NYC elections. And it’s only partially because of the dedicated, but frequently hapless folks in charge of everything on the ground. It's the city’s Board of Elections, which turns over the whole shebang to this cross-section of regular Joes and Janes, that isn’t exactly on top of the really important things and the nitty-gritty. For starters: Who’s eligible and who’s not eligible to vote? For many, many years now, I’ve spotted dead people on the eligibility rolls—and some rather long gone at that—as well as folks who have vacated the hustle and bustle and crime and grime of Gotham for greener pastures, and who are now registered to vote elsewhere.

If a dead man walking, or current resident of Paducha, Kentucky, showed up to vote in my Bronx precinct tomorrow, the odds are that a ubiquitous table manned by three volunteers would not suspect foul play. But, fortunately, nothing like this ever happens in real life.

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