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Hurricane Sandy, early voting, etc…

October 30, 2012, 12:16 AM

First of all, hello from Aspen Hill, Maryland, where I live, and where the power is still on (as of this point in the writing at least) despite the pounding we’re getting from the wind and rain of Hurricane Sandy.  This was the view off my balcony about two and a half hours ago:

View off my balcony during Hurricane Sandy

Note the blurry areas on the trees.  As this was a fifteen-second exposure, the blurry areas are where the trees were moving around in the wind.  I just hope that the lights continue to stay on, and that the 22 cans of food that I bought at Shoppers on Saturday are just my being paranoid about this, and that I won’t actually have to open them with a manual can opener and prepare them on the stove.  So I guess we’ll see how that goes.  I’m rooting for no power outage, but that might be a tall request considering that this is Pepco we’re dealing with, and that the power grid in the Washington DC region is amazingly fragile.  My parents, who live out in the sticks, never lose power, and where I live in the suburbs of Washington DC, you can just look at a power line funny and the entire street goes dark.

But I didn’t start writing this entry to talk about Hurricane Sandy, though I certainly hope that everyone in the storm’s path is in a safe place to wait out the storm, and that everyone who still has their power keeps it throughout the storm.  Tonight, I want to talk about the election.

Yesterday, I voted in the 2012 presidential election.  That’s right.  I’m done.  Nothing you can say now will make me change my vote, because it is locked in and submitted.  Done.  I decided to do early voting because it worked out better for me schedule-wise.  It made sense to vote early vs. doing the voting on election day.  Now I can just go to work as always on election day and then go swimming afterwards.  I don’t have to get up early, go to Argyle Middle School (they changed my polling place!), wait in line, vote, and then go to work.  The only thing I’m disappointed about with early voting is that I don’t get a peek at what the fire alarms are at Argyle Middle School.  And yes, I think about these things.

I actually tried to vote on Saturday afternoon, but the lines were far too long and people reported two and a half hour waits to vote.  That’s okay – I would come back.  I figured that it might be a no-go when I saw that the line to vote was out the door and almost to Norbeck Road (I went to Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center).  I came back the next day, just before the noontime opening of the polls.  The line was already around the building, but it was okay, because they weren’t letting anyone into the building yet.  Here’s where the line was when I got there:

The line for early voting was way past the back side of the building, and almost to the back of the property.

The building in the right side of the shot is Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center.  It’s the back side of it, however.  And the entrance for voting was around the front.  So this was a pretty long line.  But it’s okay.  Once the polls opened at noon, however, things moved pretty quickly.  I’d say I was inside the building within ten minutes.  Getting into the building, I thought, oh, this isn’t that bad, since there was the room where the voting was happening, and I was standing right there.  In and out, right?

Wrong.

They had set up the gymnasium in there as a place for people to wait in line.  Thus the line went into the building, and people were lined up eight tiers deep.  The only reason that all of us in line got into the gym so quickly was because once the doors opened, they had to fill those eight tiers up.  Thus this was the pattern in the gym:

The waiting pattern in the gym for early voting

Come in, move through eight tiers of lines, and then finally go out of the gym to go vote.  Going into this gym felt like I was stepping back in time.  I felt as though I was transported back to 1992 at Stuarts Draft Middle School.  The gym was a little bit smaller than the SDMS gym, but the color scheme, the ambiance, and most importantly, the smell, reminded me of my middle school days.  Take a look at this:

Welcome back to middle school Phys Ed class, everyone...

Welcome back to middle school Phys. Ed class, everyone.  All I need is to be wearing that ugly purple-and-white Phys. Ed uniform again and the transformation will be complete.  All of you who went to SDMS up until fall 1994 (when the gym was repainted), tell me that doesn’t look like the SDMS gymnasium.

While in the gym, an elections official set everyone straight on voter ID requirements.  To vote, you had to tell the poll worker your name, address, and date of birth.  You were not required to show an ID, and the poll workers were not permitted to ask you for an ID.  This, in my opinion, is how it should be.  The idea is to make it very easy for everyone to vote.

And the line moved at a pretty decent pace.  No commotion, just going where the line takes you:

Eight tiers of people.  And then finally, about two hours later, we got out of the gym:

The door in and out of the gym

Coming out of the gym, though, I saw something that amused me.  There was a football game going on between the Redskins and the Steelers on Sunday afternoon, and a television was set up.  Not surprisingly, there were a bunch of people, mostly guys, sitting around it watching football:

People watching football

I found it amusing, as did a few others.  I also got asked by someone while in line, “You’ve got a smartphone.  Could you look up the score for the Redskins-Steelers game?”  I looked it up, and the Steelers were up by ten at that point.  The Steelers went on to win the game.

And then it was time to vote:

The room where the voting took place

Yes, we voted on the infamous Diebold voting machines.  I don’t like it, either.  I want optical scan ballots or something that spits out a receipt that I can then stuff into a box.  None of this touchscreen nonsense, because for all I know, a little monster eats up my vote and it never sees the light of day again after I press the submit button.  No paper trail.

Now on the candidates and the issues, here’s my take.  I live in a “blue state” that is considered “safe”.  Barack Obama will carry Maryland and its ten electoral votes on November 6, almost without question.  So I was more concerned about the down-ticket candidates and such than about the presidential race.  I also believe that Mitt Romney doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever becoming president in the first place, considering that even his own party hates him.  After all, when you’re voting for a candidate not because you think they’re a great candidate but because you’re voting against the incumbent, you never do well.  Remember 2004 with that “anyone but Bush” idea?  Remember how well that went?  The Democrats ended up with a terrible candidate in John Kerry, but he wasn’t George W. Bush, and thus we all voted against George W. Bush rather than for a candidate that we actually liked.  And you saw how well that worked out.

So my emphasis with my vote was down-ticket matters.  We need more Democrats in both houses of Congress in order to get some really progressive things accomplished, and I was determined to send a couple of them back to Congress.  Thus for all of my fellow 8th District voters, let’s send Chris Van Hollen back for another term.  Likewise, Ben Cardin needs to go back to the Senate.

Now I had fun with one of the races for judge.  For Judge of the Circuit Court, Judicial Circuit 6, we were told to vote for no more than three candidates, and since there were only three candidates, all three were essentially running unopposed.  So for my own amusement, this is what I did:

Yep!  I voted for myself.

Yes, that is exactly what it looks like.  I voted for myself as a write-in candidate.  Why the hell not?  The candidates are running unopposed, and that makes me laugh.  No one said that politicians are the only ones who can do funny things in politics.

Then on the issues, some of those are what I really considered important.  I voted in favor of Question 6, which would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland.  I thought we did this already with the governor’s signature, but apparently now we need to vote on it, too.  So I voted for same-sex marriage.

The other issue that I was really concerned about was a Montgomery County referendum, i.e. Question B.  This was about whether or not to curtail the power of the police officers’ union and give more power to the county.  The county has made a big deal about this, putting ads on the Ride On buses, and putting up a large poster about it in the vestibule at the pool, all telling voters that they should vote for Question B.  I consider the initiative to be tantamount to union busting, and I refuse to support union busting no matter who it’s targeted against.

The way I see it, I’ve had scuffles with the police as part of various activism that I’ve been in, and I’ve made my fair share of snide remarks about the police over the years, but when you strip away the uniform and other baggage from around police officers, cops are working people just like the rest of us.  They work for a paycheck just like I do, and I can’t willingly let the county weaken the union representation that they have worked hard to put in place to make sure that they get a fair shake when it comes to their jobs.  I find the argument that people should just be grateful to have a job at all to be amazingly weak, because without the worker bees, the management has no one to manage, and the whole system falls apart.  Just like if you take the wheels off of a car, it ceases to move.  Likewise, the worker bees also have a large stake in their employer’s success, and their power lies in their numbers.  And a strong union works to make sure that its members get treated fairly, and don’t get exploited or mistreated by management.

So I voted against Question B, and I hope that my fellow Montgomery County voters do the same.

And then once I voted for everything, review, submit, and return your card.  And then right out the door.  Good feeling: a man was outside campaigning in favor of Question 6, saying how he wanted to dance at his son’s wedding.  As he said this, I said, “I did!” and raised my hand.  That felt good.

And there you have it.  Total time spent in line: two hours and 16 minutes.  Worth every minute of it.  And had some great conversations with the people around me in line, too!

Postscript: And the power stayed on the whole time I was writing this! Hopefully I won't lose power at all, but there's still some hurricane left to pass through. So we'll see, I suppose.