Voting in Philly: The Agony and The Ecstacy

Liz Spikol maintains her optimism in the face of a few challenges.

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Went to the polls this morning to vote, which always gives me a thrill. All the other days of the year I carp about the two-party system, the poverty of choices, the crass motivations of the candidates and the ignorance of the electorate (myself included). But without fail, Election Day inspires me. Some people wake up the morning of the Super Bowl and feel electric. That’s how I feel on Election Day.

I never thought it was cool when someone said they didn’t vote because it doesn’t matter anyway because the system is preposterous — and then referred me to an article in The Nation. I was schooled by Quakers, and raised by progressives. I was told I was lucky to live in a country where elections were more free and fair than in many other places, and when being female didn’t preclude my participation. Those women fought hard for me to be able to vote. I am also starkly aware of the barriers that people still face to voting — including things like criminal history, inaccessible polling places, lack of information in other languages. There are a lot of people who would like to vote but can’t. I’m going to sit this one out because I’m cynical? I don’t think so.

So it was with a spring in my step that I went to my new polling place in Mt. Airy. I moved to the neighborhood a few months ago, and filled out the necessary paperwork—or so I was told. Being the voting junkie that I am, I was pretty sure I did it correctly, but when I arrived at the new place—the Germantown Home on Mower and Sedgwick—there were two issues that prevented me from easily doing what I needed to.

The first, and by far most important, was that I couldn’t find the entrance.

There was a doormat that said, “VOTE HERE” and the person I was with, who’s voted at this polling place before, said the mat was indeed against the door where he went in last Election Day. But the door was flush against the wall, no handle. Instead, there was a confusing sign about handicapped entry that he noted “looked like it came off a dot matrix printer.” Also taped to the door: a plastic doorbell.

I said, “This can’t be it. They can’t possibly make you ring a bell to get in to vote.” But I suppose it was because we rang the bell and a poll worker opened the door for us. He was quite cheerful.

There was a line, which was nice to see. As with my former polling place in Cedar Park, one Mt. Airy poll worker had a large beard and silver-rimmed glasses. I felt at home.

They didn’t have my name in the book, but they did offer a provisional ballot. Fair enough. I won’t get into why I won’t do a provisional ballot—let’s just say that based on past experience, the subject brings my cynicism back, even on my most sunshine-American day.

As I was leaving having not voted, I saw two people trying to get into the polling place. They didn’t understand what to do. “Where’s the entrance?” they asked each other. I told them they had to ring the bell. There were zero poll workers outside to help. The two potential voters seemed to be about to walk away. I felt like I should stand there and explain to people that this polling place was stupid and you had to ring the doorbell. Then I realized I could call the Committee of Seventy hotline instead.

First the call didn’t go through. Probably my stupid iPhone. Then when I did get through, the gentleman who assisted me was very kind and said he’d report it. He also said, “Sorry, our computers are working really slowly today.” My cynical self thought, “Kind of a bad day for the computers to be slow, no?” But my sunshine-American self said, “Take your time.”

I drove to my old polling place at 48th and Baltimore. Just like the past 10 years I lived in the neighborhood, it was crackling with civic energy. There were five poll workers, and there was my name, inscribed in the book of political life, and there was the blue curtain that would part for me. The words “Elizabeth, you can take the booth on the end” gave me a democratic, fair-and-free frisson. Afterward, I claimed my HE VOTADO HOY sticker and walked out into the American sunshine.

Follow Liz Spikol’s real estate reporting at our Property blog.