My Polling Place Was Closed, I Can't Even Walk Without Crutches, Yet Strangers Saved My Ass: I Love This Country
My polling place was closed this morning.
It was supposed to be open at 7 a.m. Yet there we were, about a dozen of us -- the kind of people who, when something is scheduled to open at 7 a.m., show up at 7 a.m. And yet the poll worker at 947 Tiverton was hanging a big sign on the front door: CLOSED UNTIL 10 A.M.
What had happened? The inspector, she said, had failed to show up.
The inspector, as it turns out, is the guy who brings the ballots. You literally cannot vote without this guy. We should try back later, the poll worker told us. Hopefully some time before 10, they'd get ballots. Or, there was another polling place, a church. We could cast provisional ballots there.
Everyone was grumbling.
Later, at the church, as lines stretched from the basement up the stairs and nearly out the door, the rumor spread that our inspector had overslept. "Overslept?" one woman said, angrily. "He should be prosecuted for that."
"You know, they can be prosecuted for that," someone else said. "Tampering with elections."
Just getting to the provisional polling place felt like an accomplishment for me. I broke my ankle four weeks ago. And since it's my right ankle, I can't drive. I'd made it from my apartment to the polling place on crutches, which is harder than it looks. I thought I was screwed when the place was closed.
Ah, but the kindness of strangers. One of the earlybirds recognized me from the hallway of our building. (Everyone notices the girl on crutches.) So when he offered me a ride to the second polling place, well, sure. Never mind that we'd never actually met before; what could go wrong on the way to a polling place? (As I hopped into this stranger's car, I was 19 again -- only this time I was on crutches, and, this being L.A., the car was a Jaguar. Not many of those picking up hitchhikers when I was a teen in Cleveland.)
As it turned out, the poll worker had given us bad info: The provisional polling place was on a different block than she'd told us. But my new friend and I found it, and then we got an assist from a very sweet church volunteer who helped us into the elevator so I didn't have to crutch down the stairs. Again: the kindness of strangers.
The basement was something of a madhouse -- all of us 947 Tiverton voters were there, and annoyed, and provisional ballots require an extra step that took extra processing.
But the poll workers kept their calm and did their best to get us through the line. And though we bitched -- loudly -- about the sleeping inspector, eventually, we all got our ballots.
I later found out that the inspector didn't oversleep after all. Monica Flores, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County Registrar/Recorder, tells me that he called in at 6:15 a.m., very ill. Of the 4,621 polling places in the county, she says, this typically happens at least once each election, and there are provisions in place. The Tiverton polling place got fully up and running by 9 a.m.; there's a "troubleshooter" (yes, actual title) assigned to each polling place, and that guy was likely on his way to the ill inspector's house at the same time all of us voters gave up and headed over to cast provisional ballots.
But we didn't know that then, and anyway we were all late for work by that point. In line to vote, finally, after finding the second polling place and filling out the extra envelope for our provisional ballots and kvetching about how hard our ordeal had been, we commiserated. The lady next to me sighed loudly. "Next time, I'm voting by mail," she said.
I agreed with her, then. But right now, an hour later, I found myself thinking about the situation much differently.
I've always resisted voting by mail because I'm hopelessly sentimental; seeing people of all ages and colors punching their ballots always gets me a little misty. Never mind the trouble of getting to a polling place (or two): It makes me happy to be part of a well-functioning democracy.
And this morning, I'm extra grateful to have seen so many Americans in good form: My new friend who went out of his way to get me to the polls and then waited at the end to drive me home. The nice church lady who, when the elevator accidentally spit us out on the wrong floor, raced up the stairs to meet us and usher us to the right one. The poll workers processing our heap of provisional ballots, who never lost their cool.
I've been terrifically annoyed at my fellow Americans this election season; when you mostly encounter them on Facebook, ranting about how stupid the other side is, they're terrible. All the partisan anger and stupid condescending memes drove me this close to voting for "none of the above." But get them one on one, and it's easy enough to believe that people really are, as Anne Frank concluded, "good at heart."
Of course she wrote that right before being hunted down and killed by the Nazis. And we may well get this election wrong. It's too soon to say. But at least we got to vote. Even the girl on crutches.
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