I wake up before the alarm. I slept uneasily, the way I do before an early morning flight. Weeks ago, I signed up to be a poll worker, but only received my assignment yesterday and I have to be there at 5:00. The morning air is cool but not cold when I go out to the car, and the streets are quiet. The streetlights haven’t yet turned on for the morning.
There’s a line forming when I get to the polling place, though the doors won’t open for another hour. I slip past the line and join the group in the church gym, where people are already at work setting up the machines and hanging up signs on the walls.
Once the polls open, time slips by unnoticed, and it’s three hours, five hours later. We haven’t been given particular jobs, so I make a spot for myself standing behind the check-in tables. I am glad to not be in charge, glad to not be the one they look to when the clerks can’t find someone’s name in the database. Instead, I point people toward voting machines, scanning the room for open spaces. There are two open in the far right corner, I say. Straight back, under the basketball hoop. I try to save the close machines for the woman with the walker, the man with a cane.
It’s a steady stream of people, a parade of humanity: Older couples who come in together and wait for each other by the exit. A few children with their parents, and least one infant. A middle aged man who asks me in a thick Greek accent how to work the machine. The first time voters: the college student who just turned 18 last spring, the immigrant woman who speaks in hesitant English, the older white man in jeans and a baseball cap. I wish I knew their stories. The inspector – the woman in charge of this vote center – wears running shoes and seems to be everywhere all at once. Every time someone hands her a form to sign, she pulls her reading glasses down from the top of her head.
It’s messy, and not everything is right. The wait is too long. The ballot doesn’t always print correctly and has to be redone. An address in the system doesn’t match, requiring a call to headquarters and a longer delay. But with very few exceptions, people are patient, and kind.
I like the messy humanity of it, all of us just people, trying to figure out how the best way to live together.