The cafeteria is gently buzzing with chatter and fluorescence as I enter PS 27 on Nelson Street in Red Hook. Along the western wall of the room, volunteers are seated at a long row of tables with signs for electoral districts taped to the wall behind each one. Examining the reminder I received in the mail, I find the table for District 72.
There is someone being given their ballot and one person in line ahead of me. His non-canvas grocery store tote bag clings to its strap by a single stitch. I consider warning him, but decide he is probably already aware of it. We both step forward. He puts down his Dunkin Donuts coffee and skateboard and gives the people at the table his name and address.
Over the growing chatter, an olive skinned woman in jeans and a sweatshirt, wearing a lanyard nametag around her neck shouts out, “I want everybody helping someone!” But everybody seems to already be helping or being helped or, at the very least, not in need of any.
My attention is redirected to my district’s table where one of the women is finishing her explanation, “fill in the ballot, really, really dark – just like in school. The tests, remember?”
The man in front of me nods seriously and takes the ballot from her hand.
“And when you’re done voting for…” she hesitates. This is a day on which one does not want to make assumptions, “… whoever you’re done voting for, you bring it over to those machines and have it scanned in.”
He gathers his things and I approach the table, handing her my reminder and she finds me in the District 72 ledger. I sign my name in a box containing my name, address, and, inexplicably, a scan of my own signature.
Having received my ballot, I stand facing the eight or nine voting stations lined against the eastern wall, all of which are full. I am the only one waiting though. I alone am the line.
A station opens up – the handicap booth, which has a chair and is slightly lower than the others. I am directed there by a volunteer but ask her if she’s sure it’s okay, since it’s a handicap station.
“Oh, well maybe you should wait then.”
“Or I could limp,” I offer, dragging my leg a few steps toward the booth before stopping to enjoy her probably humoring laughter.
We wait. A woman approaches, ballot in hand and gestures questioningly toward the handicap booth, while making eye contact with the volunteer. The volunteer asks her to wait. A man, ignoring us completely, walks toward the handicap booth. The volunteer asks him to wait behind us.
The lines at the Electoral District tables are beginning to grow. Another volunteer appears from the scanning stations and beckons me to the handicap booth, “Come on, there’s one open right here.”
“I wasn’t sure if it that one was just for handicapped,” the volunteer shepherding our line says, in her own defense, as I begin to follow him.
“No, it’s fine, here you go,” he says, removing the chair, because I am not handicapped, but causing me to crouch, then kneel, then retrieve the chair in order to comfortably vote, as the handicap station is slightly lower than the others.
Having thoroughly filled in, and double-checked all the circles, I take my ballot to the scanning machines. Both machines are in use, but once again, I alone am the line. A machine opens up and I am called forward by a very short woman wearing a pastel headscarf. She takes my ballot folder and hands me back the ballot card, instructing me to insert it into the machine. The machine looks like an ATM and it takes me a moment to understand where I am actually supposed to insert the ballot.
“This side up or down?” I ask.
“Any way. It doesn’t matter,” she tells me.
I insert the ballot, vote-side-up and watch the screen. It is exactly 9:00 AM and some 160 votes have been tallied at this machine since polls opened three hours ago. Looking to my left, I see the District table lines are still getting longer and I am relieved that I came when I did. A confirmation message appears on the screen and the volunteer thanks me and tells me I can go. I am not given an “I Voted” sticker, which disappoints me.
Since I was a child, accompanying my mother to vote, I have looked forward to receiving the “I Voted” sticker. It’s how I tell people that I’ve voted without actually telling them, like a subtle in-person Tweet or status-update. Now how will people know that I voted? If I actually say to people, “Hey, I voted,” it sounds like I’m bragging. Perhaps they will know anyway, by my confident gait and aura of civic pride.
I find an exit and leave PS 27. Tightening my scarf against the cold snap of the wind, I squint up and appreciate the bright earnest blue of the sky. It is very bright. I hope it remains.
Connor Gaudet is a writer and Managing Editor of Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. He lives in Red Hook and is currently earning an MA in Public History and an MS in Library and Information Science. He would like to remind readers that polls are open in New York City until 9:00 PM. If you are unsure of your polling site, you may find out here: NYC Poll Site Locator