Voices from the Ground War

3 p.m., New York, NY

I am one of those New Yorkers who JUST does not understand why someone would vote for Bush. Well, I can imagine why someone would vote for Bush, if they were obsessed by conservative issues or thought the war in Iraq was punishment for Saddam personally attacking the trade towers. But the whole undecided thing never made sense to me. After a year of vigorous debate and clear distinctions between the candidates, how could an engaged citizen still be unclear? I decided to find out the only way I could, within the ballot box, by becoming an undecided voter.

Adopting my best undecided attitude, I didn't even make this decision until I was alone behind the black curtain in my voting booth. I went straight to the Kerry switch in the Working Parties column. New York State is one of the few states that allows for fusion parties, which means I could vote for Kerry yet send him a message that it came through a more progressive voice.

But then I noticed Bush in the first column, under the Republican party. I eyed the switch and thought, "What could it hurt to touch it?" And I did, as if expecting an electric shock. Who would know? It's anonymous, right? I tried to move it but it wouldn't budge. Only one vote for President! To move it I would have to unselect Kerry. With great trepidation I did it – I unselected Kerry and flipped the switch for Bush.

Suddenly, nothing happened. The U.S. did not invade North Korea. Abortion was not made illegal. The wealthy in American did not get wealthier (or, as more likely happened, they did and I just couldn't feel it). For a full two seconds I pretended to not be sure if I was voting for Bush – and I survived!

I unselected Bush and then re-selected Kerry, but this time in the Democractic column. And why not? I am sure most New Yorkers have no idea what fusion politics are anyway and were confused which lever to switch. I was more relaxed now – I could jump from switch to switch like some election-challenged Nadarite, refusing to commit to either candidate or party. Hell, maybe I'd vote for Nader.

But no, I was not that daring. Back to Kerry in the Working Party line and, satisfied with my final decision, I pulled back on the lever, registered my vote, and left a very decided voter.

-Barry Joseph manages the youth news discussion site, www.newzcrew.org.

9:30 a.m., Santa Fe, NM

I voted this morning at about 9:30 am, after radio spots promoting our election night party, the wrap-up of the year-long Hip Hop Voter Project. The lines weren't too long, and I voted extremely quickly – there is a benefit to having written endorsements for all the candidates, amendments and bond issues. I didn't need to read anything. I felt actually a bit choked up, although perhaps that's just the incredible anticipation that's been building. Today feels like the longest day in the world. We're on deadline, and our email is all jammed up, so we're all kind of sitting here, signing off on pages like zombies. The reporters are in the field, keeping an eye on things. A few reports of people getting mixed messages about provisional ballots.

There are polling monitors everywhere; some asked me, after I voted, if I'd had any trouble. Actually, it was quite smooth and everyone was extremely friendly and excited. I sure hope we get results tonight here, although yesterday the Secretary of State's office predicted New Mexico could get held up by 75,000 absentee ballots in Bernalillo. I wish someone would explain to me why early and absentee voting was pushed so hard if it means we won't get results. I know it's supposed to be to create a paper trail, but it really doesn't do that, does it? If they all get electronically scanned anyway? Well, it's hours until polls close anywhere in the country and I wish I had some way to speed up time and KNOW what's going to happen. We've got an office-wide electoral vote pool going on. I'm the only person who predicted a Bush win in my vote. I did that because I figure it might result in Kerry winning, since my predictions usually backfire in one way or another.

-Julia Goldberg, Editor of the Santa Fe Reporter

9 a.m., Berkeley, CA

I have never been inside the St. John the Worker Church, but I've always liked the idea that a worker would be made a saint. Nearly half of the people in line ahead of me are requesting paper ballots and sitting down in folding chairs to fill them out. A calm poll worker takes a while to find my name, runs a red pencil along her ruler and I am momentarily comforted by the simplicity of the act. I decide to brave the touch screen ballots and when it's my turn I'm only slightly fazed by the Deibold brand staring back at me. The older woman beside me is not so calm. In her good coat and wig, she is shocked to see the touch screen and has to ask for assistance striping her voter access card. Not 30 seconds later, she reaches over and grabs my arm. "You hafta help me," she says, and I call the poll observer over. "President," she says. "I just want to vote for president. That's why I'm here."

-Twilight Greenaway

8:30 a.m., San Francisco, CA

My polling place here in San Francisco is at the local firestation now – it changes every year, and on more convenient years it's right across the street. What if there's a fire? Does voting stop? The rickety voting stands are right where the firetrucks go. This makes me uncomfortable.

That's not the least of my voting jitters. I carefully fill in the arrows on my ballot, but they're not straight. What if the machine can't read them? It takes me back to high school, when every small, oval bubble on the SAT card was an obstacle to be carefully obliterated by number 2 graphite. But carefully.

The kid feeding the ballots into the machine is telling stupid jokes. He tells a little old lady that she can't be old enough to vote. She giggles. He's a 16-year-old charmer.

Then I really fuck up, not in the shaky marker line way, much worse. I vote yes when I mean to vote no on a particularly odorous ballot measure that would create a DNA database for anyone accused of a felony. It's not a slip of the pen or a subconscious desire to promote the selling of genetic code. It's just a stupid mistake. I continue on, just wanting to finish up. It occurs to me that I could just submit my ballot and carry on. Does my vote really matter?

Well, yeah, I guess it does. I guess I have to believe it does, otherwise this just doesn't work.

I go back to the table of three 15-year-old girls who are taking names and giving out ballots, and I tell them I messed up, and need a new ballot. The one in the middle looks at me incredulously. I fear that this wasn't in their training session. "A whole new one?" she says, as if I'd be wasting their paper. She has lots of blue eyeshadow on. I tell her which part of the ballot I need a new version of, and she tears me off a new one.

High school girls can still make me feel dumb.

I fill it out again, correctly this time, and give it to the charmer. He made some joke about voting, and I wonder if he has been thinking about his lines all night, in preparation for the big day.

-Davina Baum

8 a.m., San Francisco, CA
I went to vote this morning at 8 a.m. at a car garage in the Mission District. Normally, voting at my polling place is a little depressing – no one waiting in line, in and out in under 5 minutes. This morning’s experience was the complete opposite; this morning I was in line for over 45 minutes, with the majority of people in line being Latino.

The people working the polling place seemed a little out of it, and I got frazzled standing in line, after witnessing a shouting match over a provisional ballot mess-up. Tensions were running high, someone knocked over a can of Armor All and people seemed eager to get into the booth. I finally got into my own booth, and as I filled out my ballot my own stress seemed to wash away, and I wanted to hug everyone in the dinky little garage for coming out to vote.

-Elena White

7:30 a.m., Oakland, CA

I stood in line for an hour this morning. Thirty minutes at St. Peter's in Oakland, to vote, and thirty minutes at the Alameda County Recorder's office to get hitched.

In an odd but not necessarily unexpected turn of events, I caught more static at my polling site than I did at the County Recorder. I've never walked into a building with an official seal and been lucky enough to get in and get out without losing my temper or being told to come back later when I was "prepared." Before this year, I never had a single problem, snag or hitch while voting.

And yet, there I stood before the volume of registered voters organized into two categories: Above Broadway and Below Broadway. I am "above Broadway," but I wasn't on any list. I'm a new voter in Alameda County, so Poll Worker No. 2 sent me to the table behind me. Perhaps I was on their list. That table was being staffed by someone whose behavior indicated that folks had been voting for five hours and not five minutes. I wasn't on her list either. So while I was fending off a frankincense-and-myrrh-induced headache, little Isaac helped me fill out a provisional ballot. It better not be thrown out due to his droolmarks.

An hour later, Edward, Isaac and I headed down to the Recorder's office to make Nov. 2 an even bigger day than it already was. Miraculously – perhaps because everyone and their mother was voting – the line was short, county employees were courteous (I was floored; the receptionist actually smiled at me) and we were out of there in 45 minutes.

Walking toward St. Peter's at 6:50 in the morning, my stomach was turning in anticipation and excitement. It's Election Day! Ditto for the elevator ride up to the Wedding Room. It's my wedding day! There were some tears at the "ceremony" (and as anyone who's gotten married in the same office where people are incorporating businesses knows, I use that term loosely). I didn't cry when I turned in my ballot, although I might have if Isaac hadn't been trying to swipe 300 "I Voted" stickers.

In a church to vote, and in a public building to tie the knot. All before noon. I love America.

-Ginna Green

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