Marbella: Looking forward to the quiet of the voting booth

After a noisy campaign, listening to your own voice

  • These voting machines may be among the few places where you can get some peace and quiet this election season, Jean Marbella.
These voting machines may be among the few places where you can… (Kim Hairston, The Baltimore…)
November 03, 2012|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

I've come to think of it as the political equivalent of global warming: Election season seems to get longer and more heated every cycle.

I'm not quite as distressed about this as that little girl from Colorado, melting down because she's tired of "Bronco Bama" and Mitt Romney. (Although, note to Mom: your kid is upset, however cutely, and your first thought is to grab your phone and YouTube her?)

But really, the noise level this year has been close to deafening, even here in the decidedly unswingy-state of Maryland. If we haven't gotten our fair share of the some $1 billion worth of ads the presidential candidates and their super PACs have dumped on the airwaves, this year's ballot issues have ensured that we get a taste of what that must be like to live in Ohio or Florida.

So I'm really looking forward to Tuesday, if only for the peace and quiet of the voting booth. Hooray for the 100-foot rule that keeps campaigners away from the polling place, and the ban on using cellphones inside.

I'm always struck by the murmuring quiet of polling places — or maybe it just seems that way in contrast to the increasing din that precedes it, all the cable TV and talk radio ranting, all the caps-locked online raving.

Even during peak hours, even with how jolly and neighborly the lines can be, once you get inside, it's like you've entered a secular church, Our Lady of the Holy Ballot.

I guess before I go any further, I should apologize for adding to the collective decibel level. Last week, I found myself yelling at a caller, just because he was trying to inform me that if Question 6 is approved, that means same-sex marriage is good, and if something is good, we should all do it, and if we all do it, after a while, procreation will cease and the population will die out.

I know, instead of shouting, ARE YOU ON CRACK?, the better response would have been a very calm, "Maybe that would be a good thing and we can start over because obviously the current gene pool needs refreshing."

But I couldn't help myself. It's been a long and traffic-honking road to this Election Day.

On Tuesday, though, we each get some solitude in our voting booth. While it sounds like a lot of you have already voted early, I like to wait until The Day, anticipating that soothing couple of minutes in virtual if not actual isolation.

I know this is increasingly anachronistic, this first-Tuesday-in-November, this 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. thing. I'm sure before my voting days are over, the process will only become more convenient. There probably won't be just an early-voting option but an online one, or — who knows — by-text or iris-recognizing Skype possibilities.

But for now, I'm going to cling to whatever familiar voting traditions remain. I already miss the old voting booths where you went behind a curtain to do your electoral business. I liked the sense of being alone in my own space, in the midst of a very public one, a part in the greater sum of the whole electoral process: my booth in my precinct in my district in my state in my country.

There's a contemplative atmosphere that came with being symbolically walled off, alone with your own thoughts — like being in a confessional at church, or a library carrel set aside for grad students. While I usually arrive knowing full well where I stand on the major issues or candidates, there have been a couple of times when I was wavering up until I got in there. And, of course, you really want to fully focus for those surprise questions that you didn't do your homework on — the judges and the bond issues.

I don't remember when they did away with the drapery — and that satisfying ka-chunk when you pulled the big lever to simultaneously send your vote in and open the curtains to return to the world. Now you just have just a flimsy support for the digital voting screen, making the experience not much different from ordering a breakfast sandwich at the Royal Farms.

Still, having left all the punditry and all the polls and all the noise of the campaign behind, how much room do you need for just you and your conscience?

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