I just came back from voting in my first presidential primary election. I did vote in both the 2000 and 2004 general elections, but I was living at college an hour away and voted through absentee ballot since I did not want to skip class to come back to my hometown, the only district in which I have ever been registered to vote. But absentee ballots are not available for the primary, and I didn’t even consider skipping class for that (I believe I was also in Japan during the 2004 New Jersey primary).
I have however voted in person before, during a couple of the less significant election years between the presidential race, and I also spent several election days in the polling location at Edgemont Elementary School around the corner from my house when my father held a Democratic party position involved with supervising the polling station during my childhood.
Voting today was nearly the same experience as before. I told the man sitting at the A-K half of the desk my name, signed the blank signature line next to the photocopy of my signature from my voter registration card, and was given a pink voting slip, which I also signed. I had brought my passport along to use as ID, since I did not remember if any documentation is required, but in fact the only verification is a signature check, and knowing your own name and address. I then proceeded to the curtain-encircled voting machine and handed the pink slip to the woman sitting next to it. Her job is to collect each slip, make sure it is properly filled-out, and then pierce it on one of those spiked receipt collector things one often sees next to cash registers and the like. She then presses the button on the rear of the voting machine to prime it for the next voter.
Next, I stepped inside the curtain. This is the point at which there was a slight variation from the old days. I had grown up with the awesome yet clunky great blue mechanical voting machine, which had now been supplanted by electronic ones. There was something viscerally satisfying about actually flipping each little mechanical switch into the correct position before locking and then through the pull of the oversized lever on the right of everything else, transmitting your choices through a series of gears into the hole-puncher in the rear of the machine, encoding your vote onto the long and wide paper feed spooling one line at a time through the apparatus.
Now it is electronic, but thankfully not one of the overcomplicated and eminently hackable touchscreen monstrosities used in many areas. The New Jersey machine, at least the one I used here in Montclair, Essex County, simply has a plastic insert printed with the exact same material as the sample ballot I received in the mail a week or two ago, laid over a series of light-up buttons. When the machine is activated by the attendant, a backlight comes on behind the applicable ballot portion: Republican, Democrat or both depending upon your registered affiliation (both is for people like me who register as unaffiliated). Today is only a primary vote and not a real election, so the sole choice was for choice of presidential nominee. I clicked the Barack Obama button, the names of his four convention delegates to the right, the little red light behind his name came on, and I pressed the finalize button on the bottom right. It took only a couple of seconds, and I was out of there.
But in my heart, voting will never truly feel like democracy to me if you don’t get to pull a big, blue, metal lever at the end.
Update: How did my vote do? Well, Obama and Clinton are currently looking like they’re tied neck and neck nationwide, Clinton won New Jersey by about 9%, but Obama won my Essex County by around 15%. I believe this means that, since delegates are more or less apportioned at the county level, the candidate I voted for technically won in the election which my vote directly counted towards.