Exercising My Civic Duty With Kids In Tow

Photo by ElDave, via Flickr

Election day, I have a house full of kids: the toddler who’s always at home, the kindergartener who is waiting to reach the 24-hour mark on his antibiotic regimen so he can return to school, and First Grader who doesn’t have school. November is looking even less friendly to a NaNoWriMo run than I had expected. I spend the morning trying to write while negotiating battles over Lego blocks and the iPad.

At noon, I load the troops and rush Kindergartener off to school. I have two presentations to make this afternoon–a Down Syndrome presentation to the third year medical students and a musical presentation to a group of developmentally disabled adults. I don’t remember about voting until I’m reloading Toddler and First Grader after dropping off Kindergartener. We have twenty-five minutes until my first presentation–just enough time to detour to the polls.

It is way busier at 12:50 p.m. than it is at 6:02 a.m. As I get my ballot, Kindergartener and Toddler decide to explore the church hallway. The poll worker lures them back with stickers, only Julianna is playing shy. “Come on!” I say, heading over to a cardboard “booth” as far from everyone else as I can manage.

It’s a long ballot, and the pen is low on ink, so it takes extra time to blacken the ovals. I keep turning around to my children, who are still hanging out by the election judges, and hissing, “Julianna! Michael! Get over here!”

“I need sticker!” protests Julianna in an injured tone, but they both come. Slowly.

Toddler sees what I have in my hand. He grabs the pen, nearly causing me to draw a long line across my ballot, and says, “I, need, pen! I! Need! Pen!”

I shake his hand off. “No, as a matter of fact, you don’t. I need the pen.”

They turn to the brochures on the adjacent table and start plotting ways to make messes. Fortunately, I’m finished, so I get up and call them to follow me.

I can’t remember where I’m supposed to return the pen, so I turn to the check-in judges, who look panicked–I guess you’re not supposed to talk to them after you get your ballot?–and point me to the far end of the church atrium, where another judge is guarding the ballot box. I hand her the pen. “I’ll take your ballot cover,” she says.

This is new. I’ve always taken the ballot cover off at the collection machine. I’ve never been asked to walk the ten feet to the machine without a cover on my ballot.

But what the hey, I don’t care if anybody sees my ballot. I hand her the sleeve and walk over to the machine.

Only the end of my ballot is a teeny bit bent, and the machine won’t take it. I’m starting to feel the time crunch. I fight the machine for a minute, and then I realize I don’t see any instructions for which direction, or even which side, has to go in first. So I flip it end over end and it goes in.

I turn to look for my children and meet instead the eyes of Ballot Box Judge. “Sticker!” she says, and I swear she’s scowling at me. I turn back to the box and see the stickers hanging off the side. I grab one for myself and turn around again.

Julianna is standing on the far side of the ballot box judge, the wrong way from the door. “Julianna! Do you want a sticker? Here!”

Election judge scowls bigger. “Ma’am! I need you to leave!”

What is she all bent out of shape about? She says something else and I register the line of three people standing waiting to insert their ballots. Then I see the box of blue tape on the floor, the one I’m standing inside, and I realize no one can come in until I leave it. Only my daughter is on the wrong side of the blue tape box from the door. I cannot get to my daughter without walking away from the exit. “Julianna! Come! Here!”

Julianna whimpers, crosses her arms in front of her body, and in her habitual Down-Syndrome-slow way, waits two seconds to take her first step.

Ma’am!” Election Judge is really getting p.o.’d now.

Okay, enough already. “I have two children!” I say, in a light-but-pointed tone of voice. “I am working on it!

At that moment, Julianna passes in front of Election Judge, who apparently realizes I’m not just being a diva. Or maybe pushing back was what made the difference. “You’re fine, you’re fine!” she says, with exaggerated friendliness, and Julianna crosses the blue line. I grab her hand and Michael’s and haul them both out of the Sacred Blue Box and over to the doors without looking back. I don’t really want to know who is or isn’t p.o.’d at me, and I don’t have time anyway.

Mental note: next time, revert to 6:05 a.m. voting time.