At 2:30 or so on Friday afternoon, my partner said to me, "Let's get the kid in the car and go vote."
Of course, when you have a 19-month-old, nothing — and I mean nothing — happens in a simple, linear fashion. So by the time we got out the door, it was 4:18. I started doing the math in my head: 15 miles from Petaluma to Santa Rosa; not quite rush hour traffic, so . . . taking the back roads instead of the freeway, with a little luck we could just make it to the Registrar of Voters, which closed at 5, in time.
Follow me below the fleuron . . .
We pulled up to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters building in Santa Rosa at 4:49 pm, and pulled into a 30-minute parking spot right in front of the entrance. I got the kid's socks and shoes back onto her feet and lifted her out of the car seat, and we went inside.
No lines. No waiting. No liars or thugs or "concerned citizens" outside trying to turn us away or challenge our right to be there. We sat in comfy chairs and filled out our ballots while my daughter scribbled on a voter registration card and basked in the attention of both the county employees and our fellow voters, who made much of the Wonder Woman costume she had insisted on wearing, and her gorgeous hazel-and-green eyes. I even borrowed an eraser to correct a bubble I'd filled in by mistake. We did have one problem: my partner had forgotten her sample ballot, so she had to fill out an absentee ballot request card by hand, which took nearly a full minute. Can you imagine.
We thanked the elections department staff and left, got back in the car, and were sitting down to dinner in a nearby restaurant by 5:30.
Like many Kossacks, my partner and I are huge civics geeks. Voting gives us a rush of elation and pride; we've both been known to get choked up after handing in our ballots. And this time was no different, except it was. Underlying our nerdy euphoria was something new — a furious, seething rage.
You see, in all my voting life, I've never had to wait longer than 15 minutes, tops. In Brookline, Massachusetts, I simply swung by my polling place on my morning walk to the office. In San Francisco, I walked around the corner — the polling place was closer to our house than the coffee shop, so we would vote and then caffeinate. And in Sonoma County, it's even easier, if that's possible.
So why were we so angry? It's because we both realized all over again that voting should be this easy, this casual, this much fun, for every single American. No matter where they live or what color their district (and do I even need to say, no matter what color their skin?).
We also realized that, up till now, we've been lucky. As a childless, professional couple who have always had the flexibility to show up to work late, leave early, take a long lunch, etc, making it to the polls has never been difficult. But the simple addition of a toddler to our lives has completely changed the game. We suddenly got quite a vivid picture of how a long line, a moved or closed polling place, or a challenge to our registration status could keep us from voting.
I'm furious, knowing that people in Florida are standing in line for 9 hours just to exercise their right to vote. That people in minority neighborhoods across the country have to navigate a minefield of intimidation, misinformation, and dirty tricks, just to be counted. That one of our two major political parties seems to view voter suppression as just another, completely appropriate, arrow in the quiver of their campaign strategy.
I agree wholeheartedly with MSNBC's Chris Hayes: interfering with the right to vote isn't just wrong. It's an obscenity.
I know President Obama is going to be re-elected on Tuesday, and I'm hopeful that we'll expand our seats in the Senate and take back the House. But one thing is certain: we can't let another four years go by without working for election reform. We need a single set of rules nationwide, for every state, every county, every polling place, every voter. And we need it fast.
To those of you who haven't had it as easy as I have, who've had to wait for hours or come back another day with the right documents, or deal with any other Republican nefariousness, I offer my profound respect — and my sheepish apologies for not appreciating nearly enough just how fortunate I've been. And let's just say that election reform has moved up several places on my list of critical issues for activism and advocacy.
4:36 PM PT: Rec list? Seriously? I'm gobsmacked, truly. Thank you all for your stories, your insights, and your recommendations.
Starting Wednesday, let's work together to make voting a sacred thing for every American . . . but first, let's GET. OUT. THE. VOTE!
8:36 PM PT: Watching Rachel Maddow's special Sunday coverage of the Miami-Dade voters who waited until 1 a.m. to vote and had to put up with locked doors, having their cars towed, and more. All I can say is, Florida voters, you embody the very best that we as a people and a nation have to offer: against all odds, we find a way. I'm humbled and inspired by your determination and tenacity — and speechless with gratitude.