Before you read this, I want you to know that I'm someone who can pass time just watching people. Airports are my favourite place to do this because everyone is in a hurry. You can create a 3 minute reel of their possible life in your head while you wait to clear security or board your flight. Try it next time.
This is the first general election I've been able to vote in my whole life. Every time someone tells me my childhood in different countries is cool or interesting, I want to tell them it comes with a cost. The first being that most of your relationships expire when you leave a place, the second being that you never have as many legal rights as those who have residency or citizenship, and the third that you are frequently making a new home. My personality will not allow me to stay stationary forever, but as I grow older, I'm starting to value having a base camp.
I've always been an observer and outsider. Labels I sometimes apply to myself before anyone else does but now that I'm officially a US citizen, I'd like to be more than an observer in yet another place. Ironically, I spent last week observing a polling site and reporting times for a local initiative.
I wanted to do more than cast my own vote, and take a small step towards helping others engage in our political process. I studied political science in college, and I've always found human behavior interesting (hence the people watching hobby). This may also be a good time to clarify that I am not a stalker :) I just observe where I am in a lot of detail.
I spent ~30 hours between October 24 and October 31 at the Perry Township Gov't Center to report wait times every 30 minutes for www.indyvotetimes.org. I also became a parking guide and pizza delivery girl on some shifts. #ChefsForThePolls had free pizza the first day so I wound up getting extra for others in the line. Parking is sparse, and I didn't want people to leave because they couldn't find a spot for their metal wagon.
Here are my random notes from my time spent at a single vote center:
- On the first day, there were parents with kids who waited over 3 hours to vote.
- There was a woman with an oxygen tank and wheelchair. Her caregiver made a comment that they probably should have bought an extra tank given the wait time.
- There were people who bought lawn chairs to ease their wait.
- A couple of college students sold coffee for $1 to people who were waiting in line.
- On Saturday, a food truck stopped by at 1 pm, and offered free pizza to people.
- Most of the waiting occurs outside. This may be good given the current pandemic however, standing outside in the heat is strenuous on even young bodies.
- It's interesting how people create a structure when no structured is provided before hand. Is there a science to forming lines?
On the first day, the line wrapped around the building, a parking lot, and along the side of the building again.
On the second day, the line wrapped around the building, the parking lot, and around the block instead.
- I saw a candidate on Tuesday afternoon who was talking, shaking hands, and giving voters pamphlets while he didn't wear a mask. Not the best social distancing IMO.
- Most of the voters themselves were wearing a mask though. Politics should be about people so in my opinion, the least a candidate can do during a pandemic is wear a mask to keep those people safe and healthy.
- I'm impressed by the patience citizens are exhibiting though. With higher voter turnout, the lines can be long at times. We're so used to speed in our modern lives but good things take time to grow.
- A few days in, I noticed porta potties, hand washing stations, and more trash cans at the site.
- One day, a 95-year-old WWII vet voted. It happened to be his birthday so a few folks sang Happy Birthday as he went down the ramp to fill out his ballot.
- It rained one day. Most voters continued to stand in line. I had one umbrella in my car that I passed around to voters if they didn't have their own or a coat.
- I was at the Perry Township Gov't Center most days last week. There was a gentleman who was there every day from open to close, who helped anyone who needed assistance down the ramp so they could vote. He volunteered his time. I have no words to express both my awe and gratitude to him. One day, he helped more than 80 people by 2 pm.
- 2020 has been a rocky year. Watching people in line socialize safely without knowing each other's political preferences was a reminder of our community's heart - patience, communication, action. It honestly made me feel hopeful and there have been many nights when I haven't felt hopeful this year.
- On Halloween, a child dressed as Snow White stopped by with a bag of apples that she handed out to people who wanted one.
- Over the week, there were many individuals who brought water, chips and sandwiches to voters too. It's these small acts that bring me a lot of joy; they're gentle reminders of our softness and humanity. Check out https://polls.pizza/ if you're curious.
- When I volunteered originally, I had no idea where the site was because I'm not well acquainted with Indianapolis. I just asked to fill a spot. I'm glad I got assigned to the Southside because I haven't spent much time there. On my last day, I discovered a new Indian restaurant nearby and ordered some take out. Hanging out with my 20-month-old over a warm chole bhature was a good end to the week especially since I didn't see him as much and missed a few bedtime snuggles. Although off topic, I have to say, he was the cutest Batman on Halloween.
I won't be able to volunteer again this week but I'm really grateful for the idea and opportunity. It may seem small but watching people exercise their responsibility and right made me realize that there's hope. There's hope.
If you're voting for the first time, that's great. If you're voting for the n-th time, that's great. If you haven't voted already, please make a plan to vote on Election Day.
If you're at the polls in Marion County this Tuesday, you can submit your wait time by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the wait time and your location.