A rare privilege

I’d never voted early. Living in Arenzville, early voting meant driving 15 miles to the courthouse, while waiting until Election Day required only a jaunt of three blocks. Besides, I knew all the local election judges and enjoyed chatting with them. But, new to Jacksonville and frankly anxious to get my vote counted in this election, I sauntered into the Morgan County Courthouse on a beautiful Saturday morning to take part in this thing we call the American democracy.

Voting in Arenzville is a bit less cumbersome since I didn’t have to walk through a metal detector. The only encumbrance in my old hometown was a door to the community center that sometimes stuck. I asked the Morgan County deputy if I had to strip for frisking and he motioned me on through. I was a bit disappointed, but pushed “First Floor” for the County Clerk’s office and was greeted by a couple of gorgeous gals who seemed to be waiting for me. Okay, I doubt that, but since we seemed to be the only ones in the courthouse that morning, I daydreamed a bit. I told them that the deputy downstairs had failed to frisk, but they also declined. Just thought I’d ask.

After checking to make sure I was a real person, they gave me a choice of voting a paper or electronic ballot – and since I’ve always enjoyed pushing buttons, I opted for the touch screen. Tell you the truth, it was a little spooky. The courthouse was almost empty and I was left alone in an echo-filled room on the first floor of the Morgan County Courthouse surrounded by phantom voting booths and silent machines. I thought about singing a couple of verses of “This land is your land, this land is my land,” but was afraid the clerks across the hall would panic and start rechecking my identity.

Once I’d pushed all the right buttons, a little card popped out, so I took it across the hall, wished the gals a good day and told them they could go home early since I was done voting. They thanked me for the offer and as I passed the deputy at his station in the basement, he waved me on through. Apparently you can carry as many explosives out of the Morgan County Courthouse as you wish, you just can’t carry any in.

But here’s the sweet part … the almost weird part. I felt so darned good exiting the courthouse on that brisk October morning. I have a friend who’s a tour guide in Moscow. In March of 2018, he will also go to the voting station and cast his ballot, and in his words, “It won’t make a damn bit of difference. If Putin doesn’t get enough votes, they’ll simply lie and give him a few million more under the table.” I asked him why he bothered. He told me, “Nothing would make the government of Russia happier than for us to become discouraged and quit taking part in the process. It’s useless for me to vote, but I must do it.” Maybe that’s why I was smiling as I headed out the back door of our local courthouse. No matter what, my vote counted.

Several years ago, Illinois College hosted a lady from China who told us, “I have never seen an election ballot in my life.” She said that in China local delegates choose the heads of the national party. How are the local delegates chosen? By the national committee. Every voting delegate is pre-screened to make sure they know how to vote. When I stepped in the courthouse parking lot, I was smiling.

United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Brunei and Saudi Arabia all have limited suffrage in voting. Their local county deputy would have to check my sex as I entered the courthouse. In Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, members of the armed forces aren’t allowed to vote. Our own nation began with only white male property owners given the right to cast a ballot and we gradually fought our way to a system where most people of legal voting age can participate. Actually only about half of us do so, thus making my ballot count for two. Maybe that’s another reason I was smiling that day.

You would think that after 45 years of voting that the thrill would wear off but it hasn’t … not one bit. Whether I’m standing behind a faded red, white and blue curtain in Arenzville, Illinois, or alone in high-ceilinged room of the Morgan County Courthouse pressing my fingers against a screen, it’s still a thrill to say that yes, I am a part of what makes democracy work. Some things never grow old. I left the courthouse smiling that day and it had nothing to do with the starched uniform of the deputy or the smiles on the faces of the clerks … but they were quite attractive.

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