Election Day in Douglas County, Nebraska
It’s a chilly fall morning in Elkhorn. The sky is a brilliant blue, the grass is still green, and the trees that still cling to what few leaves they have are showing off their jewel-inspired colors. The air smells vaguely of campfire. It’s a great day to be out and about.
Along with thousands of people in my county of residence, I lined up at the polling place bright and early this morning, wearing my patient pants and excited about participating in the democratic process. My polling place is the chapel of a sprawling retirement home, the kind at which I can only dream about residing some day. I follow the directions on my yellow voter’s card and walk toward the main entrance, where I am greeted by a smiling older woman with kind face. She points me down a hallway to my right, where I am immediately greeted by two more sweet older ladies. They’re standing by a thick wooden table that’s covered with coffee urns, trays of muffins and stacks of fruit, napkins, and assorted coffee sweeteners. “Help yourself to refreshments now or when you’re done,” say the guardians of the goodness. I look to my right at the growing line of citizen voters and abandon the refreshment table. Afterward, I decide. I have a feeling these ladies keep the table well stocked at all times.
I take my place in line, where I am one of only a handful of people who are not dressed smartly in either corporate or military uniform. There are at least 45-55 people ahead of me, and I noticed that across the hall from me was a barber shop, complete with striped pole and red curtained windows when I heard a strange electronic beeping noise coming from somewhere in line. I looked around and noticed the source of the sound: an elementary aged boy waiting with his mother, playing a handheld game console, and if my hands hadn’t been full with my wallet and polling card, I would’ve smacked my forehead. I say to no one in particular, “Aw, I should have brought my son so he could see this.”
To my surprise, the woman standing in front of me in line turned around and said, “I was just thinking the same thing. How great would that have been, for kids to see what democracy is about.”
We made small talk for a bit, the kind where you ask about the kids’ ages and schools they attend. The conversation was pleasant and quiet and it certainly helped the waiting time pass more quickly. We steered clear of sensitive subjects like who we would vote for and political platforms, and I couldn’t help notice that when people passed by us on the way out of the polling booth, my conversation partner smiled broadly and proudly at them. I asked, “Is it just me, or do you want to cheer for people when they’re done voting?”
She laughed, “I do! The fact that we are able to participate is very special to me,” she said. Her words humbled me as she went on. She described how ever since she was a kid, she has cried each time she’s voted. “When you think about it, thousands of people died so I can stand here. People today are dying to protect us as we stand here.” Her eyes welled with tears and I could see that she was reflecting on someone in particular. “It’s silly,” she said, wiping her eyes and opening her purse to dig inside. “It’s not silly at all,” I replied.
We waited quietly for only a few minutes more until she was administered her ballot and moved into the private voting area; I followed another few minutes behind.
I’ve voted in nearly every election I could since I turned 18. I’m not proud to tell you that this year I’ve become a little jaded, what with the onslaught of obnoxious advertising, campaigning and armchair quarterbacking of every candidates’ move. Before I stood in line on this beautiful morning, I was mostly grateful that we would soon be rid of that aspect of the process, at least for a little while. But that conversation in line reminded me of something I should have been mindful of from the beginning: That voting is a sacred act, a privilege paid for by the blood and effort of thousands of people. I cast my vote, and with it I gave thanks for all who made my voting possible.