[After today’s post, there will not be another one until February 27.}
We had come from Short Hills, Austin, D.C., Irvine, California, London, New York City, and many other places to staff a voter hotline for the last election. There were retired and practicing Wall Street lawyers and English solicitors. There was an armed forces special ops guy who had done a tour in Afghanistan and who now was writing at a national security think tank that he described as left of center. There was a former prosecutor who was now an entrepreneur seeking funding for an energy business, but whose real claim to fame was that he had guided Antonin Scalia on a Montana fishing expedition. (Surprise. The then Supreme Court Justice was not a good fisherman. Too impatient.) There was a Fulbright Scholar from Atlanta who had just returned from Brazil where he had started a drone company to help farmers with their crops. There was a young lawyer working for a union who surely did not make much money but loved fine dining.
We picked up phones with voices asking, “Am I registered?” “Where do I vote?” “Can I get an absentee ballot?” “Can I vote without a voter registration card?” “Do I need an ID?” “What kind of ID?” “Can I get a ride to the polls?” Some wanted canvassers to stop coming to their door, over which we had no control. Some were more adamant. “Don’t bother me,” one said. “I am 61 and if I live to 161, I will never vote. My vote doesn’t matter.” On Election Day, people reported long lines and malfunctioning voting machines and election judges wrongly interpreting the law.
Some were upbeat and wanted to chat. “I was ten years old on Pearl Harbor Day,” another said. She had loved to dance, not just a polka but the jitterbug, too, but now did not have a partner except for her niece’s husband.
Some were frazzled, but still wanted to vote. A woman was trying to find out if her father, who had recently moved in with here, was registered, but she could not remember in what year he was born. After a bit, I found the year and told her. She said, “He has been saying he will be 90 next birthday, but he will only be 89.” Then as an afterthought, she asked if her son were registered. I joked and said, “Well I bet you remember his birth date.” She told me the month and day, but then could not remember the year. I could hear her panic. She asked if she could walk away from the phone for a moment, and I said, “Yes.” Before going she mumbled that her son was 34. By the time she got back, I had figured out the year and found his registration, but she had still not remembered the year of her son’s birth. I tried to reassure her, but she said, “What kind of mother am I that I can’t remember when he was born?” Then she said how overwhelmed she was taking care of her father and started to cry.
The days were intense, punctuated by brief walks and too much food of dubious nutritional value. Finally we counted down to the closing times for the polls. A quarter hour later I left, as did many others. I have neither seen nor heard from any of those people since.