I didn’t vote yesterday -and not for lack of effort. After visits to two polling stations, telephone calls to the Boston and Cambridge Voting Commissions, and pleas to an Election Warden, I gave up. Somehow, in my move from Cambridge to Soldiers Field Park, I was dropped from the
Cambridge voting list and never added to one in Boston.
The women working the polling station in Cambridge were willing to let me try to cast a written-in ballot that, if needed, would then be verified to make sure that I was registered. They were trying to make me feel better -like my vote would count. I knew that it wouldn’t. I was a poll worker in 2000 in New York City and remember trying to make the people who were “losing their vote” feel better. At the time, I was shocked that some people would leave my polling station in midtown, go downtown to see a judge (who is available on election days to allow provisional voting overrides in questionable situations such as mine) and return to cast their vote. I remember seeing the dejected faces of those who didn’t have time to contest their situations. They left my polling station as I left the one in Cambridge yesterday -sulking and a bit bewildered.
I’ve had the opportunity to see local elections in rural Mexico and national elections in South Africa. I was in shock as I watched a mayoral vote in the town of 4,000 in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I was living in the summer of 1992. No one was willing to vote against the PRI-supported candidate (the ruling party at that time). Town residents told me that their votes would not be counted, so they wouldn’t bother voting. In 1999, I was in South Africa during the second ever full democratic election. That day I watched lines wrap around blocks as people waited diligently to vote.
I was surprisingly upset about not being able to vote. Voting is a right for which I am deeply thankful. When my mother and father were born, black Americans were still not given the right to vote in every part of this country. My parents would be in their twenties before the Voting Rights Acts were passed. My grandfather, who was born in 1913 in the citrus fields of Florida often told me of the crushing oppression of growing up in the racist south. He ran away to Pennsylvania when he was 12 years old, never to return to Florida until he was in his 60s and driving a motor home. Yesterday, my older sister, Dawn McCoy, was elected to the Sacramento City Unified School Board in California. This has been her first campaign for public office. I can only imagine what my grandfather would say.
When I vote, I am exercising my civic duty and giving thanks to those who died so that I can have the right to argue on the telephone about where I’ve registered and go from one polling station to the next to try to have my voice heard. It was with this mind-set that I marched onto Putnam Street with attitude.
After volunteering at a polling station in 2000, I’ve committed to be an election volunteer in every presidential election while I’m alive and able.
It is amazing to watch people from all walks of life exercise their rights.
So in 2004, you might find me at your polling station offering instructions.