My Morning of Existential Dread at the Polling Place

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Photo by Parker Johnson on Unsplash

never got around to sending out my absentee ballot. I was worried about the many things that could go wrong, so I procrastinated. Delays with the mail, the possibility of the ballot getting lost, and (if I’m being honest), my own incompetence all played a part in my refusal to mail that slip of paper.

I’d ripped the return envelope when I’d opened the ballot, and I wasn’t sure if taping the ragged pieces back together would disqualify my vote.

I held onto the ballot until today, filling it out while I sipped coffee at the dining room table at 6:45 a.m. I was determined to vote before 8 a.m., but not because I was worried about the crowds. There are never any crowds at my polling location which only serves about 200 people.

No, I wasn’t concerned about waiting in a long line to cast my vote for Biden or even that my vote was critically needed (New York has voted overwhelmingly blue for the last eight Presidential elections).

What drove me out the door bright and early this morning was superstition. I needed to get to that little polling place and add my blue energy, officially, to the universe.

I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve convinced myself that every ounce of Democratic spirit is absolutely essential to win this thing.

You know how some Christmas movies rely on Christmas spirit to save the doomed holiday? It’s exactly like that! It’s the citizens of Whoville who save Christmas by joining together in collective song to transform the Grinch from a miser into a saint.

In Elf, It’s all those cynical New Yorkers singing out their Christmas cheer so that Santa’s sleigh will fly again. But it’s not until the final voice — the voice of the biggest cynic of all — joins in, that the scales tip in Santa’s favor.

I don’t want to be the silent voice that loses this thing, so I pulled on my boots, grabbed my completed mail-in ballot, and drove to the polling place as if my life depended on it.

I needed to get it over with, to know that the short drive to the firehouse was done and my blue-wave cheer was officially out in the universe.

Everything felt like an omen. When a photo of my daughter tumbled face-down onto the floor, I thought she might be trying to send me a sign.

When I started my car, Jefferson Airplane’s “How Do You Feel” began to play. Of the over 600 songs on my playlist, I wondered, why this song? I tried to find meaning in the lyrics:

“How do you feel?
Just look at her smile
Do you see what I mean
She is looking our way
Oh how I wish we could stay,
just stay for a while
How do you feel?”

Was this another sign from my daughter? I drove with more urgency, arriving at the polling place at 7:04 a.m. I was practically hyperventilating when I pulled into one of the many empty parking spots. It took me two tries to put my cloth mask on, looping it around my ears with shaking fingers. I peered frantically around the parking lot, half-expecting to see pickup trucks circling, their Trump and American flags snapping in the breeze.

But there were only a few parked cars in the silent lot. I took a breath, grabbed my ballot, and walked to the open doorway of the polling place. There were two people ahead of me, an elderly man with a walker and a woman who was disappearing behind a privacy panel as I stood at the threshold, trying to get my bearings.

A table stocked with pandemic supplies was set up at one end of the room. It contained several bottles of hand sanitizer, disposable plastic gloves, and masks. There were no pens anywhere. Instead, voters were required to don a pair of disposable plastic gloves and sign their name directly onto the screen of an iPad (not an easy feat for the ancient man being propped up by his walker).

I marveled at the risk this man had taken to vote and at the many ways Trump and his corrupt administration had failed him. He could’ve mailed in his ballot, but he’d probably been plagued with the same doubts as me, so he’d risked getting sick to come vote in person.

A familiar feeling of existential dread rolled over me as I made eye contact with one of the voting officials, confirming that it was okay to drop my completed ballot into the box.

“Yes, it’s fine,” she chirped, smiling behind her mask. She watched me place the envelope in the box and nodded. “You’re done. You voted!”

As I drove home, A Perfect Circle’s, “The Noose” began to play.

“So glad to see you well
Overcome and completely silent now
With heaven's help you cast your demons out”

“What could this mean?” I thought. Was it a good sign or a bad one? The rest of the song is not optimistic, and I felt panic rising up.

I went over every step I’d made that morning in my head. Had I signed the envelope? Used an appropriate pen? Filled out the right row of circles on the ballot? What if I’d screwed up the very last step. I pictured my completed ballot in my mind, with the Republican circles filled out in a neat, evil little row.

The song droned on, “With heaven's help you cast your demons out.”

I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’d filled out the ballot correctly. I’d signed and sealed the enveloped and I’d put it in the ballot box myself.

“You voted!” The poll worker’s comforting words echoed in my head.

I’d voted, adding my faith and blue energy to the universe. Hopefully it’s enough to keep the sled running, the bells ringing, and the tide turned in our favor.

Occasional poet. Writer of sad essays. Novelist. Birder and amateur photographer. I enjoy trees.

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