Tuesday, February 5, 2008

They Didn’t Ask to See My ID, hmmmm

Well this morning, for the first time in my life, I voted in a Presidential Primary Election.

It was a surreal experience, and I’m not sure what to think of it. For the record, I’m a registered Republican but have Independent leanings, I’ve voted in Utah, Virginia, and now in New York.

I’ve never encountered anything like I experienced this morning, and I’m not quite sure what to think about it.

This morning came early (mornings usually do), I woke, dressed, and ran out the door into the cool misty morning to cast my vote in the Presidential Primary on my way to work. There is a candidate whose positions I value and wanting him to have a chance in the general election I headed to the polls this morning to help him on his way.

I trekked along the streets of Inwood over to Academy to my local polling station, PS 56, and followed the signs to a side entrance leading to the school’s cafeteria.

There wasn’t a line and I was relieved that I’d chosen to come early in the morning instead of battling crowds at the end of the day. I gave my address to the lady manning the table at the front, she hunted for my address (it ended up not being listed, I know because I discretely searched the page along with her), consulted with her colleague, and sent me over to table 83.

Most of the other tables had numbers hanging off the front of them, mine didn’t. It took a few moments to locate the right table. “Is this is table 83?” I asked the volunteers at the far side of the polling area. They told me I was in the right place and asked my last name.

I said, “Bitter.” The lady at the desk looked startled and looked back up at me.

“What?” she asked.

“Bitter.” I reaffirmed. I opened my mouth to make a joke about my last name, but she’d already turned back to the spiral bound book in front of her and didn’t seem interested. Instead I dug through my hand bag and pulled out my wallet.

She quickly flipped through the book until she found my name, and began to copy information down onto a small slip of pink paper. I pulled my drivers license out of my wallet and asked if she needed to see my ID.

She said, “No.”

I hesitated, then put my ID back into my wallet then shoved it back in my bag. The woman handed me a pen and asked me to sign beneath my signature for verification, then took the pink slip of paper she’d written on and turned it face down and slid it forward next to a stack of blue papers about the same size. After signing the book, I reached down to grab the slip of paper, but she fended off my hand and gestured to the voting booth.

I hesitantly walked over to the enclosed booth, a crooked white cardboard sign with the number 83 blazoned in black upon it hung on the side, and a woman drew back the curtain. “You’re republican right?”

Startled, I answered, “Yes”. I wondered if she was allowed to ask me that, stepped into the booth, and promptly stepped back out. The lever and knobs (most likely built back in 1940) looked so foreign that had to ask for instructions.

Here's what the booth looked like but sketchier.

New York City Voting Booth, originally uploaded by thepodger.

“Pull the lever to the right, turn the knob, then pull the lever back to the left and you’re done.” She smiled. I nodded and stepped hesitantly back into the booth.

I’m tall, 5’ 10”, but still I had to look up at the wall full of knobs in front of me. I stared trying to make sense of what I saw. Column upon column of names on blue paper. Some of the columns had one name listed others had several. I remember seeing Obama’s name and Clinton’s, in another column I found Edwards (hadn’t he withdrawn from the race?).

For a moment I wondered why when the woman had confirmed I was Republican, had she put me in a booth where only Democrats were listed. I almost stepped back out to ask, when I spied one column in pink crammed to the far right. A short list of Republicans.

I grasped the large lever at the bottom, pulled it to the right, counted down the names to make sure I turned the right knob, double checked, looked up and read the short list instructions listed on the booth’s wall (there were three, pull the lever, turn the knob, pull the lever back), then triple checked the knob, turned it and an X appeared beneath and to the right of my chosen candidate’s name. I hesitantly pulled the lever back to the left. Gears turned inside the machine, and I wondered at the simplicity of it. Surely there must be something more?

I stepped out of the booth. No one paid me much attention, the booth workers were clustered around the table I had signed in at, and not wanting to interrupt, I walked out and past the table at the front, bid them good morning, then stepped out into balmy cool mist and crossed Broadway to catch the A train.

I now sit and nervously wonder if my vote was cast, if I did things correctly.

I think of how they didn’t check my ID and wonder how much voter fraud happens, I wonder about them re-affirming that I’m Republican as faint thoughts of anonymity float through my head.

I contemplate why the Democrats were spread out across so many columns with the Republicans squished into just one column to the far right, and why the columns were not labeled with the office the candidates were running for.

I am curious as to how many registered Republicans voted for Democrats and how many registered Democrats voted for Republicans in the Presidential Primary. Perhaps that’s why they asked if I was Republican, so they could de-activate the Democrat side of the board.

But most of all, I worry about that pink slip of paper laying face down on the table. Was there something more I needed to do? Once I had voted, should I have placed that paper in a box, or was I supposed to leave it face down on the table? I suppose I should have interrupted the clustered group of volunteers around table 83 to ask if there was something further I needed to do, but I was unsure and hesitant, and now I worry did my vote count?


p.s. Polls are open until 9:00 pm today, have you voted yet?


  1. I've been voting there for years and they never asked to see my ID. The red (pink) piece of paper has a correlating number on it that was written next to your name in the spiral book for them to keep track of the number of votes that they have to account for. I too happen to be a republican, hence the fast track voting line on the right! Seriously though, there should have been different cards, and not just different machines.

    Weird experience huh?

  2. Voted for the first time in a presidential myself and like you, a registered Republican leaning towards the Independent party~ I didn't get to use the creaky lever time machine thingy though... They didn't have my name on the list so I had to fill a ballot out... boo!
    Anyways... cheers... saw you on flickr and decided surf to your blog... all the luck to ya~


  3. I'm a reader of Manhattan's Peak and wandered by on their recommendation. Here are some answers to your questions and concerns.

    1) New York State does not require voters to present photo ID. All you have to do is sign.

    2) The slip of paper is to count the number of voters. I assume blue is for registered Democrats and pink is for registered Republicans.

    3) The "Are you a Republican?" question is to confirm that you intended to register as a Republican, as only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in New York State primary elections. Had you said "Wait, I thought I'd registered independent" you still would have been allowed to vote, but they probably would have given you a registration form so you could properly re-register afterwards. The question would be improper in a general election, when any registered voter may vote regardless of party affiliation.

    4) There were lots of columns for the Democrats because the Democratic primary involves voting for delegates who have pledged to support various candidates, as well as voting for the candidates themselves. The Republican primary is set up so that you just vote for the candidates, and the New York delegates all go to the winner in New York. This is why Clinton, with 57% of the Democratic vote in New York, gets 105 delegates, and Obama, with 40% of the vote, gets 74 delegates, while McCain, with 51% of the Republican vote, gets all 101 Republican delegates and no one else gets any.

    5) Ah, the lovely old lever voting machines. They've held up pretty well over the years. I imagine they're a little weird to anyone who's used to punchcards or touchscreens, but they work just fine and once you get used to them they're pretty easy to use. Sounds like you did everything right there.

    Hope that's helpful! I spent two hours staffing a voter helpline this afternoon, so feel free to ask me more questions while this stuff is still fresh in my head.

  4. Thanks for your detailed explanation, RoseFox! Sounds like the Republicans you're responding to (here), are determined to find some conspiracy where none exists.

    As for genuine conspiracies, see "vote caging", the RNC's preferred election rigging tactic this go 'round.

    Also glad to hear that plain 'ol mechanical voting machines are used, which makes it much harder to rig the actual tally/count.


  5. Thanks everyone for the comments! :) I feel much better now, that know I did everything properly. Special thanks to dg & rose fox(!) nice to know what the pink slips were for, and now I know why there were so many columns for the democrats.

    @anonymous - no conspiracy theories here, just confusion & red flags. You must be new to the blog, but I'm not the type to stir up controversy, mostly just present experiences and ask for open discussion. But it's good to know that the "time machine" crank lever voting booths are very reliable. :) Thanks for the heads up.

  6. Doug and I went to vote on Tuesday as well. There was some serious problems with us being republicans as well. We were the third republicans to vote all day and they had to change the machines for us, we foud it very funny.