With Liberty & Justice For Who Exactly?

I live in a neighborhood in transition, to be polite.  It’s not a rich neighborhood and it’s a heavily minority one.  I went to vote at a brand new community center just behind my house today, what unfolded was something out of a Michael Moore movie and not our fine democracy.  I arrived at 6:45 am, 15 minutes before the polls were set to open, and there was already a line about 5 deep, which added 5 more with every 10 minutes.  Most people were somber, with few words spoken.

 

“It’s time to change, mmhmm!”  Said a small black woman with blood red nails, behind me. 

 

“Is it time?  I wanna get this done with.”  Asked a man, absently, in front of me, playing with his cell phone. 

 

We mulled about until around 7:00 am, when a woman pushed ahead of us all and walked into the center. 

 

“Who’re you?”  Asked an old woman at the front of the line.

 

“Poll worker.” Is all she said before she ran in.

 

We stood around for a while longer.

 

“Well,” I say, “It’s seven!  Let’s get this thing goin’!”

 

The doors are still closed.  The girl that ran in previously comes out, rushes by.

 

“What’s goin’ on?”  Asks the woman behind me.

 

“They’re not ready.” She says, mostly ignoring us and never to be seen again. 

 

We stand around, talking to one another, not surprisingly I don’t hear a single republican voice in the crowd.  I look at my phone, its 7:10, and I have to get to work.

 

“What the hell is going on?”  I mumble. 

 

A lady at the front of the line opens the door and shouts:  “What’s goin on!  We want to vote!”

 

She’s told they’re not ready yet and she relays the information back to us. 

 

“Jeeze,” I say to the crowd, “It’s like they weren’t expecting us or something.”

 

“We’ve only been waiting for this for 4 years.” Says blood-red-nails.

Finally, around 7:20, they open the doors, 20 minutes late.  They say they can check us in, but we can’t vote. 

 

“Why can’t we vote?”

 

“The machines, they’re down, we don’t know how to work ‘em.”

 

“Well where’s Mary Jones!”  Shouts red-nails, I find out later, that’s the precinct judge, who is supposed to be here. 

 

“She not here, and we cain’t reach huh!”  Shouts another poll worker.

 

This is getting weird; I pull out my phone and Google the national voter’s rights number and start to call.  I get sent into voicemail hell at first, I call back and I get someone right away. 

 

“Our Vote, what is your location and name?”

 

“This is T. Anthony, Houston, Texas Precinct 159.”

 

“What’s the matter sir?”

 

“We are unable to vote, our location is on Greene Street at the Community Center, Fifth Ward.  Machines are down.”

 

“Can I speak to a polling rep?”

 

“Hang on.”  I put the phone down and shout above the very heated arguments that are taking place around me.  “I NEED A POLLING REP!”

 

A small, very frail elderly woman wearing a velvet hat looks up at me and raises her hand. 

 

“Ma’am, I have election officials on the phone, could you please speak with them?”

 

She does, I don’t hear what they say.  They’re also trying to check me in, but keep mistaking my first name for my last, so they flip from one book to the other and back again.  I’m tempted to reach down and flip to my name, but I think better of it.

 

“No, ma’am, over there.  My last name does not start with T, that’s my first name, go to the other book..yes that one.  There I am!  Thank you ma’am.”  I sign, and have my phone handed back to me. 

 

“Mr. Anthony?”  Asks the woman from the voter’s rights center.

 

“Yeah, I’m here.”

 

“Ok, well here’s the situation.  The machines are down, they have no paper ballots, which they are required to have, and the judge is missing.  We will be contacting the Harris County officials to send out their officials, we will be personally dispatching an attorney in the area to your precinct as well as an election official.  I will call you back in 10 minutes.”

 

“Ok, thank you very much for all you’re doing.”

 

“Thank you sir for calling, this is very important.”

 

We all start to line up after being checked in.  There are 20 of us inside and a line that stretches far outside the door.  There’s nothing we can do, so we sit, and we wait.  I dial another number.

 

“Mumblehello, what is it?”  I called Delma, the only person I know would be home.

 

“Del, its Trev.  I need your help.”  She suddenly awake and at attention.

 

“What’s goin’ on?” I relay the issues to her.

 

“That’s nuts, I don’t get it.  What do you need me to do?”

 

“Get me the number for KHOU.”  It’s our local TV affiliate, just then my phone beeps through with a call from New York.  “Del, I gotta take this, hang on.”

 

“Mr. Anthony?”

 

“Yes, Ma’am.”

 

“This is Rachel from Voters Rights, I wanted to update you on the progress here.  Houston election officials were not aware of the issues at your precinct, they are now aware and dispatching personnel as well as an attorney.  We have been unable to locate the judge for your precinct, give me 10 minutes and I should have another update for you, alright sir?”

 

“Yes, Ma’am, thank you.”

 

I click back over to Delma.

 

“You there?”

 

“Yeah, I just texted you the number for KHOU.”

 

“Awesome, I’m gonna call them, I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for your help.”

 

I call KHOU, their offices are closed before 8:30 am.  What?  Does news not happen before 8:30?  I guess not.  They have an option to leave a tip.  I leave my name, number and what’s going on in our precinct, making sure to emphasize we’re a poor area.  Finally off the phone, I look around to see if there’s any progress.

 

“Still nothin’.” Says red nails.

 

“You know that this isn’t happening in River Oaks!” I shout, making sure everyone hears.  River Oaks is the place to live, in fact it’s where all the guys from Enron lived, and it’s a beautiful area, but you can be damned sure that they didn’t have any voting problems. 

 

“Even if they do fix it, how are we sure the vote is gonna count?”  Red nails opines.

 

She has a point.  In Texas we use a machine that leaves a false paper trail.  You get a ticket to vote, you punch in the code on it at the machine and vote.  But this machine is widely criticized, as most electronic machines are, for not keeping any record.  The paper tape is more there just to mollify any concerns we the public may have.  In reality, if that machine crashes, accidentally purges our votes or just doesn’t communicate our votes to the voting center, our votes will, 100%, never be counted. 

 

My phone rings.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Mr. Anthony, Rachel again.  We’ve reached the judge for your area.  There are now provisional ballots on their way to your voting location, the judge should be on her way.  Before you called nobody was aware of any issues in your area, thank you so much for calling.  Officials are on the way, do not leave.  Make sure you stay and cast your ballot.  If you can, try and convince others to stay too.”

 

“I will ma’am, thank you for all of your help.”

 

And that’s it.  We sit and wait.  We watch as the polling volunteers plug and unplug wires and machines and just try every combination they can think of to get the machines to work.  I don’t mean to be rude, but most of these people are old enough to have voted for Ike and remember teletypes…to say my faith in them fixing a computer was nil is putting it lightly. 

 

Finally the machines light up, their hubs make a weird noise and the fake-paper-trail begins to whir. 

 

“We got ‘em!”

 

“Yeah, but will it count?”  Wonders red-nails, “You’d think with the importance of this election, the number of people they knew would come out, how many of us want to do our duty  that they would make sure we could vote!”  She was getting angry.

 

“It’s my first time voting.”  Chimes in a young girl behind her, which softens red-nails.

 

“Welcome to the electoral system.”  I beam at her.  I look at the machines.  None of them are connected to a modem. 

 

“Hey, how are we sure our vote will get counted?”  I ask. 

 

“As soon as you cast it, it gets sent on down to the downtown center where it’s stored.”

 

“But how?”  I ask.  She has no answer.  “None of these machines is plugged into any internet connection or modem.”  I might as well have asked for some lettuce to put on my head, she had no idea what I was saying.

 

It’s my turn to vote.  I grab the paper with a number on it, and go to the station.  I dial in my choices.  No vote flipping here.  I cast my ballot.  I look around at each machine and each terminal that they’re connected to.  Not a one is connected to a modem, even though there’s a very large notation and port on the machine that says “Modem.”

 

I sigh, concerned, not knowing whether or not my ballot was really cast.  I look at my phone.  It’s 8:15.  What a joke.  What a waste.  We’re all urged to do our civic duty and when we try to exorcise that right we’re met with obstacles, diversions, misinformation and a system that every 4 years seems utterly shocked that, YES in fact we ARE doing this AGAIN!

 

If we want to fix these United States, how about starting with our antiquated, rusting hulk of a machine they call the election system.

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Thats gonna be my new saying… Put lettuce on my head!!! that was great! had me laughing. I needed it.


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