A Never-ending Stream of Voters

By the time you read this column, we may know how the Presidential election came out. Then again, we may not. As I write these words, Election Day hasn’t yet rolled around, but early voting has ended. What a ride it was!

Almost 20,000 Putnam County voters cast their ballots during the 14 days the election office was open. Many mornings, folks were lined up around the building long before 8:00. At closing time, there was usually still a line. More than 1,800 last-minute voters cast their ballots on October 29, when we stayed open until 7:00 p.m. We set a record for number of voters almost every day.

And we scratched our heads and wondered what it meant.

Were people showing up in droves to keep incumbents in office or to vote them out? Were they trying to avoid big crowds at the precincts on Election Day? Were they worried that mail-in ballots might not arrive in time or even arrive at all? Was it good old-fashioned patriotism that made people willing to stand in a long line in order to vote? There’s no way to know. Political talk isn’t allowed at the polling place. Even if it were, there wasn’t time for it. We registrars handed each voter a sanitized pen and had them show us a photo ID and fill out an application for ballot. The application was coded by precinct and returned, the used pen was dropped in a box to be re-sanitized and the voter headed to the room where the machines were set up. Then the next voter in line stepped up to the window. On every day except Saturdays, more than a thousand people voted. And the phone never stopped ringing.

It was amazing. It was gratifying. It was exhausting.

It was all I could do, amidst the constant busy-ness, to take notes for this column. But I managed. I noticed what kind of photo IDs were most common. Not surprisingly, the answer is driver license. But many voters showed handgun permits or military IDs or U.S. passports. Photo IDs weren’t the only thing dropped into the little plastic box that was slid through the slot in my window. I was given Medicare cards. Social security cards. Library cards. Even a Visa card or two.

I was struck, as I always am, by interesting addresses. Some street names are lovely: Friendship Lane. Sunflower Drive. Peach Orchard Road. Some are descriptive: Rocky Point Road. Coon Hunter Road. Tightfit Road. And some celebrate where we live: Tennessee Avenue. Volunteer Way. Big Orange Drive

Because my eyes were pretty much at voters’ hand-level, I noticed fingers. A surprising number of people don’t have all ten, and while I’m always tempted to ask what happened, I never do. Somehow the election office just doesn’t seem like the right setting to conduct that kind of research. I noticed fancy manicures. I noticed raggedy fingernails. This time, I noticed an interesting trend. Several male voters had a tattooed wedding ring on the third finger of their left hand. What do you do about that if the marriage ends?

I noticed clothing. While a few voters showed up wearing a candidate’s name on a shirt or hat and had to be asked to remove or cover it up, almost everyone obeyed the rules. I saw Bible verse t-shirts and Tennessee Tech t-shirts and Second Amendment t-shirts and t-shirts that bore the likeness of everyone from Darth Vader to Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

For the most part, the days were crazy-busy but uneventful. Unlike slower elections, there was little time for chit-chat. But I loved it when one voter leaned in to confide this to me: “I feel like it’s Christmas Eve,” she said, “but I don’t know if Santa’s coming.”

Me, too, I thought, though I didn’t say it. Me, too.

(November 7, 2020)