November 8, 2016

Locked out of polling place.

My polling place is closed.  Locked and shuttered.  I feel excluded. Barred.  Disenfranchised.

It's perfectly legal, of course.  The population of rural Plumas County, California, my adopted home, is simply too sparse to support the great American tradition of going to the community polling place and casting a ballot in the curtained but public presence of neighbors.

It is too expensive to place community volunteers in positions of responsibility as poll officials.  We are too small here to open traditional polling places in school gymnasiums, fire stations, post offices and veterans memorial halls

It's all too bad, from my perspective.

I have always looked forward to Election Day – walking into my local town hall, clapboard siding in perpetual need of paint where my kid learned to wash windows as community service for a minor misdemeanor. 

I have always welcomed the greeting of the volunteers who work the polls – homemade cookies on the tables where they check me in with boisterous welcomes and gossip before the business of voting.  I have always chosen to vote in person – pull the lever, blacken the circle or use whatever is the latest device to make it up the canyon to our mountain outpost of democracy.

My sons once clung to my legs as I stood inside the cloth sanctuary to participate in the ritual of electing leaders.  Today, on perhaps the most critical Election Day of my life, I am barred from all of these rituals of a free and open society.

Blame California's Election Code 3005.  Whenever there are 250 or fewer voters in a precinct, it requires the precinct to become a vote-by-mail-ballot precinct.  The 250-voter minimum eliminates polling places. And since there are fewer than 250 voters in each precinct in Plumas County – a place nearly twice the size of Rhode Island – every voter in the county now receives a vote-by-mail ballot.

 So no red-white-and-blue "I voted" sticker for me. 

VOTE PROP 61 001.jpg

All I have is a square "Yes on Prop 61" sticker endorsed by Bernie Sanders and stuck on the front page of today's San Francisco Chronicle.  The closest the campaigning Bernie got to Plumas County was 120 miles away in Reno, Nevada.

This is an odd sort of rant for someone who is not a flag waver and spent air raid drills in the high school principal's office in an exuberance of a pacifist's protest.  Still, the locked polling place door with its stern sign quickened my sense of America, a place where participation is a fierce sort of freedom, and freedom a humbling responsibility.

Dropping an envelope in a box doesn't cut it, even if the postage is pre-paid.