Which is better, early walk-in voting or voting by absentee ballot? In the past, I’ve always voted absentee, but I this year I was curious about walk-in voting, which started in Hawaii on October 21st. With so much on the line in this election, I was also nervous about my absentee ballot getting lost in the mail (okay, maybe slightly neurotic of me, but still, it does happen). So I took my absentee ballot to the County Clerk’s office and traded it in for a walk-in ballot.
The scene at the Clerk’s office was unexpected. I went on Tuesday afternoon, around 2 PM. I figured any lunch break rush would be over. I was wrong! There was a crowd out the door of people thinking the same. I waited about 30 minutes in a line that snaked past the row of plastic chairs with shiny metal legs, past the table with blue forms piled neatly into black trays, around the water cooler twice, finally spilling out into the slightly green-tinged hallway.
Maybe it was because each person’s personal space was encroached upon. Or maybe it was because of that buzz in the air coming from a mass of citizens eager to do their civic duty. We were total strangers chatting like old friends, carefully talking around any sensitive specifics about the communal task at hand that might get you expelled from the voting conga line.
When it was my turn at the front of line the clerk with dark hair and round glasses, a woman in her early 50’s who’s worked in that office since she started working and will retire from her civil service at the end of this new president’s second term in office, asked if I wanted to vote by paper or electronic ballot. This is the first year that Hawaii offers the choice. In the past, it’s always been paper. I asked for the one that offers a receipt for my vote. She handed me the paper ballot.
I held the ballot encased in its blue secrecy folder close to my chest, like a wedding bouqet, and reverently walked down the aisle to meet my date in our quatra-yearly rendez-vous. I entered the booth and pulled closed the striped red, white and blue curtain. What happened next was very personal, too personal to reveal here. Afterall, I don’t vote and tell.
When I emerged from the embrace of the voting booth, I fed my ballot into the scanner, watched my choices register on the screen and heard the paper drop into its belly with a slight thunk. Another friendly clerk, this one slightly younger with long black hair, escorted me to the door. As she was closing it behind me, I stopped and asked her is had been this busy all day. She replied, “It’s been non-stop since we opened this morning.” It was the first day of walk-in voting afterall. But I just had to know if it had ever been that busy for walk-in voting in previous elections. She answered firmly, “Since I’ve worked here, never.”