I stride past the multitude of campaign signs, the one red, white and blue one that says “Polling Place Here.” A handful of men pace away the cold with hands in their jackets as they wait for the doors to open.
I immediately spot the inspector. A short woman in a red polo, she appears in no mood to chat. I make my introduction brief. I assume she’s happy not to hear I’ll be observing. She knows I report counts of voters, wait times, and “incidents.”
Outside poll workers measure out the 200 feet of string to mark the boundary for electioneering. Inside I strike up a conversation with a woman neatly wrapping an orange cord around a vacuum. I assume she’s finishing a night shift with the community center’s cleaning crew.
I look out the windows at the growing line, eager for the process to begin. At 8:02 first voter walks through the door. The line outside stretches a block long where it would remain for the next hour.
A smiling young black man approaches me.
“Can I get a sticker?”
“Sure!” I reply.
“Even if I don’t vote?”
“Sorry, no. You have to vote and then you get a sticker.”
“See I wanna vote but I can’t.”
“Cuz I’m a felon.” (Which I’d assumed.)
“I’m sorry. I understand. I know a lot of…” I pause, searching for the phrase “previously incarcerated people.”
“But can’t I get a sticker?”
“I have some connections. I’ll see what I can do.”
He heads to the weight room. I retrieve a sticker. I don’t see him again.
Voting is slow and steady. I find myself playing a guessing game of “Which party do they belong to?”
Two women with head coverings do not appear to have their names on the voting books, although both are at the right polling place. I toss in a couple more assumptions.
About noon, a young couple enters—one with a satchel, the other with a tripod. He is tall and thin with caramel skin, curly black hair and glasses. She is pale with neon shade fuchsia hair and wearing bright Bohemian pants. The young woman mentioned that her partner couldn’t vote. Not a felon, he was a permanent resident,
The hours went quickly. By afternoon the inspector is looking more relaxed. I congratulate her on a good day of voting so far. Soon we discover we graduated from the same high school and a warm conversation of “Did you know” follows.
The cleaner turns out to be on the administrative staff at the rec center who just liked to do a little extra cleaning of the space at the start of her day. She’s a couple of years away from retiring with her “good” city pension. Divorced, she is proud of keeping her 19-year-old son on her health insurance. “It doesn’t cost that much,” she said.
Before I know it my replacement arrives. I leave him with a few lessons on provisional ballots and the polling process. My observations on assumptions I take with me as my own. I head out into the autumn air, now warmed.
Have you ever made assumptions about someone based upon a single experience?
Do you ever form conclusions before having all the facts?
Are you willing to get to know someone beyond their exterior?