More Confused than a Dolphin in a Cabbage Patch

On this dark, cold morning, Husband and I awoke at the ungodly hour of 5:45am to go vote. We had seen stories yesterday of 7-hour lines in Ohio and Florida, and feared an important state like Pennsylvania would see similar throngs of would-be voters clumped outside our polling station. At 6:20am, we arrived at said station half expecting/half hoping to see a line around the block (if anything, just to justify freezing our tuckuses off in the dark). What we found was an equally cold and dark building and a sanitation worker who had assumed that we’d arrived to start setting up.

After politely (and with a surprising bit of embarrassment) explaining that we were not, in fact, there to volunteer, we headed off to the diner across the street for some much-needed coffee, english muffins and political chat with our awesome waitress. At just after 7am, we walked back over to the polling station to find that there were a few people inside, but still no massive line to speak of.

Now this is where things get a bit interesting. As we were walking in, we became immediately aware that the young woman two people ahead of us was not a “morning person”. As we were to discover, there were only two volunteers working the station, and no one from the commissioner’s office had yet arrived to open the machines. Miss “F*&# you, mornings” therefore, had taken it upon herself to inform the volunteers that she knew her rights as a voter and she was going to vote at 7 in the morning come hell or high water (never minding, of course, the four people in line ahead of her whose process for voting was being slowed by her asking for an explanation about why the machines weren’t open and then conversely telling the woman answering her that she wasn’t interested in her excuses). Naturally, when she turned to the three of us behind her for validation, I just glared at her until she turned back around and shut up.

Score one for the home team.

But back to the machines. As it turns out, though the polling station was supposed to be opened for voting at 7am, neither of the women – uh – “manning” the station were the technician meant to open the machines. (Which literally needed to be opened. They had massive, heavy looking bags covering each of them with locks at the bottom. It’s the first time I’ve seen a cloth fixture used to secure something, and I was remarkably impressed that they actually looked like something even a safe-cracking pyro couldn’t break into.) This meant that all of us in line had to fill out provisional ballots.

Oh, joy.

For those who don’t know, provisional ballots (and I’ve done my own taxes), are a mess. There are three different pieces of paper telling you how to fill out and submit the damn thing, and none of them use the same language. There are two envelopes. Two. And you put your ballot in one and put that one in the other one. One of the envelopes you fill out with all your personal information on the outside. The other one is called – I’m not kidding – the “secrecy envelope”. Logic would dictate that one would put one’s ballot into the envelope with all one’s personal info on it (you know, so they’re together) and then put all of that in the “secrecy envelope”. Given that one of the envelopes tells you to put your ballot into the “secrecy envelope”, one might assume that the other envelope was, in fact, the “secrecy envelope”. At least, that was the conclusion I came to.

Actually, I was so sure of my correctness (it’s a word. Spell check didn’t turn red.) in this assessment that when I saw that Husband’s envelopes were the opposite of how I’d stuffed mine, I politely informed dear Husband that he’d done his wrong. What’s more, the electoral judge at the table who was witnessing me sign my envelope agreed with me, so Husband told her he’d need a new envelope. As she went to retrieve one for him, he opened his envelope, only to have her come back and say that they only had a certain number of envelopes and she couldn’t give him a new one. I pointed out that no one would count his ballot if they saw that it had already been opened, but she insisted that she would tape it and they would take it. Oh, and it was at this point that I noticed the line on Husband’s inner envelope under the “Place ballot in secrecy envelope” stating “Please place ballot in this envelope.”

Clear as mud. Jerks.

So I point it out to her. “Ma’am. I made a mistake. This one says to put everything in the other envelope and I put mine in the one like this.” So she asks me where my envelope is. I tell her it’s in the box already. So she grabs one close to the top that has the wrong envelope on the outside and hands it to me. I open it. It’s not mine.

Oh, god. I’ve opened someone else’s envelope.

I start to panic. I now worry I’ve committed a felony and probably negated some poor, unsuspecting man’s vote. Then I freak out that he’s voted for my candidate, and now that guy is going to lose the election.

She tells me not to worry, the ballot’s still inside the guy’s other envelope. She writes down my name and sets Husband’s opened envelope aside.

I ask her name, come home and immediately start calling the voting observers office and local papers. I figure if I go down, I’m not going alone, dammit.

Fortunately, Pennsylvania, having just undergone one of the more unnecessary implementations and subsequent reversals of a confusing system of voter ID laws (as well as not having any early voting), does have strong advocacy groups working to make sure everything goes according to plan for as many voters as possible. They had a voter complaints hotline – which I called – as well as people on staff to haul ass to my polling station to fix this mess of a disaster.

So after an hour of the two poor souls volunteering as my polling station frantically calling to get a tech down to their station to open the machines while simultaneously getting all the people in my small corner of the city set up with their (aaaaaaauuuuuggh) provisional ballots, I was assured that someone had indeed finally arrived to open the machines, and all was now going smoothly.

In the meantime though, I can’t help but think of the possibility that the three votes cast by me, Husband and Poor Unsuspecting Man will float off into the ether, never to hold the weight of votes cast by machine or folded neatly into the correct succession of envelopes. It’s so frustrating – No. – angering to feel like I’ve spent way too much time contributing to and learning about a system that could so easily discard my opinion about who runs my state and country.

Maybe I’m just being unnecessarily cynical. Though, for a short moment after getting home today, I almost wished I hadn’t glared at that woman.