When I was a kid, my dad always took me to the polling place with him for elections. It was dark when we went because my dad had to go after work. Looking back, I conflate and confuse my memories of voting with going to his job’s Christmas event, so sometimes I think the two took place in the same building. I suspect that’s not true, but I have no idea. The car my dad drove to the polls back then was a small, light blue car that smelled like Chips Ahoy cookies.
I remember being hoisted up in my dad’s arms as he carried me into the building, found the voting room, and we went back behind the privacy barriers. I believe they were curtains. There, he explained everything he was doing and showed me how to select the candidate. In my mind, this was done on a screen, though I no longer remember whether that was really how it went. I’m grateful to my father for bringing me along for these moments of political engagement; it was certainly more fun than the mock elections held in school. More important than US politics, of course, was spending time with my dad.
I missed being old enough to vote in 2020 by just a few months. I am 18 now, and on November 2nd, 2021, I finally cast my first ballot. It wasn’t as exciting—or nerve wracking—as a presidential election, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. When registering to vote, which I did a day before the deadline, I registered in my home county and I had no idea how to request an absentee ballot, so that Tuesday I made my mom drive the hour from Syracuse to take me back to vote. Thanks, Mom! I’ll figure out the absentee ballot thing another year. I am quite fortunate to only have one class Tuesday, and a mom who had time to drive four hours total that day, but it’s a reminder of how difficult it is for many people to get out and vote. Even my dad is luckier than many, since he typically has time to vote after his workday. I hope that this issue can change someday soon.
That afternoon my mom parked at a building that’s a part of our local community college and we headed in. There were no clear signs directing us to where we could vote, but luckily we found the room down the first hallway we tried. Inside the room, we spoke to several election workers who situated us with paper ballots and directed us to desks with privacy barriers. Unlike the curtains of my memory, these were small trifold papers. It felt like test-taking in elementary school, and I cracked a joke about cheating off of my mom’s paper.
I worked my way through the options on the front then flipped the paper to get the propositions on the back. I only actually got to choose between candidates for two or three positions because so many people were running unopposed. Once more I was reminded of test-taking as I carefully filled in bubbles with a pen supplied to me by the poll workers. As for the props, I’d done some cursory research on them and they made me quite hopeful. I finished first, and the worker directed me to a machine where I would feed in my paper.
“It’s been a little finicky today,” she said. “Slide it in facing this way, but we might have to flip it around a few times.”
I did as she said, and a moment later the machine spit my vote back out at me. At the woman’s encouragement I flipped the paper and tried again. Rejected. It was the third or fourth try before my vote remained where it belonged inside the machine. By that point my mom was waiting patiently behind me, and she went through the same process once I’d finished. I didn’t say that it seemed a little worrying how unreliable this machine was, but that’s how I felt. I’m just glad it worked out eventually.
I had voted for the first time, albeit a little unceremoniously. My mom and I grabbed our “I voted” stickers and headed back to the car. Just about everything was different than what I’d remembered from going with my dad, but it’s hard to say how accurate my memories were anyway. What I know was definitely similar, however, was that nice it was to spend time with my family. This time it was my mom, and we spent a lot more time chatting away in the car than I would’ve in the short drive as a child with my dad, but my appreciation of the time is the same. Whether it’s to do my civic duty or simply spend time with my family, I enjoy voting and look forward to doing it again—and maybe by then the machines will be working.