At age 31, this will be the 4th presidential election in which I have voted. As I reminisce, I'm even more interested in looking at the manner and nature in which I have voted than for whom the actual votes have been cast.
I voted in Yonkers, New York while a college student at nearby Fordham University. The precinct was in an old city library that had been converted into a senior citizens center. Voter turnout appeared underwhelming and less than enthusiastic. I voted in the late afternoon, in what should have been a busy time. However, my wait was only minutes as the senior citizen poll workers located my voting record.
In this election, I voted in an antiquated "lever-style" machine that offered the privacy of a curtain surrounding me on all sides. Talk about weird! Were the Tammany Hall bosses trying to look over my shoulder or something? Voting through this system in theory seemed easy. But I also think it was easy to cast an errant ballot by pulling the wrong lever. The system provided no peace of mind that my vote was properly cast or would be properly counted.
As to my vote, I was very much an anti-Clinton Republican here. I voted for the Bob Dole - Jack Kemp ticket and harbored delusions of another Republican win coming off the Congressional election of 1994.
In this election I voted in McDonough, Georgia in the gymnasium of Henry County Middle School. For a precinct, this was a bigger facility and had plenty of room to accommodate the process. I was out of work at the time and made voting in the middle of the afternoon the highlight of my day. The overall wait to cast my vote was about 30 minutes, if my memory serves correctly. Poll workers were helpful and enthusiasm in the metro south Atlanta for this election appeared to be high.
This time I cast my vote through the same notorious "punch-card" system that led to hanging chads in Florida. I did find the method of voting to be confusing. I believe I even asked for help to make sure I was lining the punch-card up correctly compared to the actual slate of candidates. I did not enjoy voting in this manner. However, I did feel a greater sense of confidence that my vote was properly cast in the end because of the control over the process I felt.
Though I ardently supported the candidacy of George W. Bush, I cast my vote for the independent candidacy of Patrick J. Buchanan. This was an easy decision. I knew Bush would win Georgia and it felt good to give my vote to someone I greatly respect and have admired as a political mentor throughout the years.
Though I was still a resident of the same county, by this time I had moved to a different town. Living in Hampton, GA, I voted at Hampton Elementary School and this ended up being my worst experience to date. Enthusiasm for the Bush-Kerry election was extremely high as Republican supporters were motivated to vote in full force. This was also a Senate election year in Georgia which helped turnout as well.
My wife and I voted in the late afternoon and experienced a 2 hour wait to cast our votes. Many things made this so unbearable. Firstly, we had our two year old child with us and no accommodations were made for that. As a result, our neighbors in line just had to deal with the cryings of a hungry and confused boy. I felt for them. Secondly, the parking lot was so full, we had a 15 minute walk just to get to the location. Finally, the precinct only had two of the brand new "computer voting machines" and they were placed in the entrance way of the school. Thus the line to get to them snaked around the entire building in a tight elementary school hallway.
That said, I enjoyed voting on these digital touchscreen computers best of all. I only wish this very busy precinct had more than two of them. It was easy to see the candidates, even easier to touch the screen to indicate your selection, and also this form of voting best allows for the reading of wordy state Constitutional amendments that are often on the ballot. As I reviewed all my selections and submitted them, I did feel confident that my vote was in order and would be counted. For the record, I did vote for George W. Bush this time and was happy when he won.
I'm now a resident of Lehigh Acres, FL and my local precinct is inside of the Lehigh Christian Church. This was not completely foreign to me as I voted in 2006 in another church here in Florida as well. As I cast these votes, however, I will admit it feels a little odd to do so inside a church otherwise covered with Christian symbols. I mean, I probably would be somewhat uncomfortable voting inside a Muslim mosque afterall?
However, I don't think this is unconstitutional. I don't even think it's wrong. In many cases churches are the best local venues to keep precincts as small as possible. And that is particularly important to me. We now have 3 young children. As much as I value my vote, I will not go though another 2004 type burden to cast my vote. It's not worth it. More power to you if you think it is. And if my life were different, I might too. But I value my family even above our democracy.
Another issue of concern is that Florida resident will now be voting by filling out "optical-scan" ballots. What a step backwards! Our computers were taken away because seniors couldn't deal with the lack of a piece of paper. This system is only slightly better than the punch cards I used back in 2000. It will definitely slow down the process and lead to longer lines unnecessarily.
I hope that's the lesson of this recount. We need to find a way to streamline voting. I'm a populist. I believe in the importance of voting. But I don't think it's fair to make it so burdensome that people decide it's not worth the trouble. A fair solution would be to go 100% computerized voting in smaller precincts with printouts so people have certainty in their vote. I also do support requiring some form of common-sense identification to prevent fraud. It's 2008. Can't we get our act together already?
As for whom I voting this time around, I still haven't decided. I suppose I'm one of the dreaded 8% undecided in the polls. Given the choices this time around, I'll wear that as a badge of honor!