by Than Pence
While exercising my right to vote, I feel other kinds of unexpected pressure.
|I drove up to the church and, with ire, thought about how my local government deemed the First Baptist Antioch Church a proper voting spot. What ever happened to the separation of church and state? I quietly asked myself as I exited my car and entered the building.
Inside, I went to the right and took in the gymnasium-feel of the room. There were several clean, white tables. Along the far wall were four shabby booths. An elderly couple sat next to a young woman at one round table. All three were filling out there ballots and I recalled learning in school about times when the right to cast a private ballot was supposed to have been an issue. Apparently, those elderly people never had to deal with that issue.
Going to a lengthy table on the side, I presented my license to an older woman who was all smiles and wore three “I Voted” stickers on her sweater. “Okay,” she said. She grabbed a ruler after locating my name in what can only be dubbed The Book of Names. She held the ruler under my name and colored over it with a yellow highlighter. “Now, just grab a ballot,” she said while handing me the ballot, rather than letting me tear one off for myself. She rubbed her fingers against the card and starting laughing at her co-worker, another female volunteer who was reading a copy of Bill O’Reilly’s Pinheads and Patriots. “I always think there are two ballots when I grab one.” She then pointed the pencils out and sat down.
I turned and looked at the tables. There were eight round tables in all. Seven were free to sit at, but my eyes immediately went to the vacant booths on the other side of the gym. I looked back at the helpful woman. “Um, can I use one of the booths?” She nodded as she pulled another sticker off the roll and placed it on her sleeve. The action was accompanied by a giggle and I couldn’t help the eye roll that followed.
Approaching the booths, I grew nervous, like the older couple was watching me. When I turned my head, the man actually was giving me an almost menacing stare. My pace quickened as I neared the booth. Before I knew it, I was sliding the patriotically-colored curtain back and secluding myself away from the rest of the gym’s occupants: all five of them. I set my ballot on the flimsy counter and read the first option. I knew I didn’t want to vote as a strict Democrat, so I ignored it and moved on.
Once I applied pressure to the ballot, the counter folded down under the extra weight and I tipped forward, bumping my head against the brick wall behind the booths. My tiny wooden pencil clattered loudly and I bent down to retrieve it. I tried bringing the booth’s counter back up into its correct position, but it wouldn’t lock. I opened the curtain just as Bill O’Reilly’s biggest fan was walking up to me. “Oh, sir, that booth is broken.”
Thanks for the heads-up. “Oh. Okay.”
She gestured to the tables and the open space they provided. “The tables are still very private, sir.”
“No, thank you. I’ll use the next booth.”
With a tight smile, the woman walked back to her table as I entered the next booth. Inside, I put weight on the counter and was relieved when it didn’t buckle under the privilege of voting. I marked the first option that I cared about on the ballot and, upon reading the next set of names, I couldn’t remember which one said what on the commercials. I looked up at the ceiling, hoping the advertisements would come to me, when I noticed an intricate web covering a large corner of the booth’s top.
I yelped and then felt embarrassed as the echo came back to me, sounding like a woman’s. The spider – a brown monster made of hair and legs – was very active and I swatted upwards to try and smash it against the curtain and the firm wall behind it. Unfortunately, my judgment was not with me as I had used my ballot as the swatter.
Grumbling, I heard clicking shoes before I opened the curtain. She was coming to get me, to convince me that the tables were the best choice for filling out my ballot. “Uh, ma’am, I just need another ballot. This one has spider guts on it.” She grimaced as I handed her the ballot.
Following her, I retrieved my ballot and went into the same booth, knowing it was now safe to vote there. Afterward, I went to the machine and the first woman that helped me told me to stick my ballot into a large, blue machine. “It doesn’t matter which way you stick it in.”
She handed me my sticker and I left. In the parking lot, the older man was helping his wife into their car. He shut the door and looked at me. He walked around to his door and, before opening it, yelled to me. “Ya don’t have nothin’ to hide when ya vote, kid.”
I was surprised. “Excuse me?”
“When ya vote here, ya either vote right… or not at all.” He held his hand up, pointing a finger at me with his thumb in the air. He put his thumb down, as if he was shooting a crude gun, and mouthed a subtle “bang”.
Chilled, I opened my door, sat down, and started the engine. I offered up one more glance and the man was grinning at me with perfectly yellow teeth. My skin crawled as I pulled away. I almost expected him to follow me home, but he didn’t.
I knew living in Alabama was going to be different. I just hadn’t expected the difference to manifest in such a disturbing manner.
Word Count: 988