Election

I voted three times in 2016.

The first time was during the Primaries. It was back in March and I was still living in Massachusetts. I was registered to vote in the same precinct where I grew up; my polling station was at Holy Name, where my mom went to elementary school.

I drove down Centre Street, looping around the rotary and passing the convent and the wrought iron gates of the Arboretum. The median was dotted with signs for Hillary. It wasn't unusual for there to be political signs along this stretch of road, but usually there was a mix of signs for all the candidates and spread a little more sparse, but this was different.

There were dozens, arranged neat and uniform, and they were all for Clinton.

When I pulled into the rotary by Holy Name, I saw the signs strapped to the school yard fence were also just for her. Again, there was usually a patchwork candidates and issues represented on that perch above the rotary. But this time, they were all Hillary blue—and big. There were so many signs that I wondered if there was a rally.

I cast my ballot for Bernie.

When I checked the news later, I learned there had been a rally for Hillary at my polling station just moments before I arrived. An impromptu—and illegal—rally that was held too close to the building, making it difficult for voters to access the entrance. Bill went inside to shake hands and take photos with voters and voting officials, which was against voting regulations.

 

The second time I went to vote, it was August. Kyle and I had finished unpacking a month earlier. We had switched from Romneycare to Obamacare and registered to vote in Missouri. With this important election, we didn’t want to take any risks voting absentee in Massachusetts. We thought, maybe, we could help turn Missouri blue—or at the very least, purple.

We had registered before for the Missouri State Primaries, and were eligible to vote. We didn’t have Voter ID cards yet, and I still had my Massachusetts drivers license, but I brought proof of address.

In Boston, voters are listed in printed indexes organized by party, by precinct, by address. Your name is checked off in pen when you receive your ballot. But here, your license or voter ID card is scanned digitally, your ballot received once your information is confirmed with a stylus.

But when they scanned my ID, my name didn’t come up. Neither did Kyle’s. We were holding up the line as the officials tried to find our information. Their tablets crashed and rebooted. They eventually told us that we were registered at a different location—30 minutes away by car.

We were incredulous.

It didn’t make sense to be assigned to a station that wasn’t in our neighborhood.

I was tempted to confront the officials, demanding to speak to a superior.

But I understood this wasn’t a hair that I found in my entree at a restaurant—this was my voice, my vote.

I didn’t want to risk losing it.

 

We got back in the car.

We drove past the highway we would take to get to my parents house, and through the town that cuts a square into Kansas City’s city limits. It was afternoon and the summer sun was shining bright into the windshield. We turned down a country road where a little white church was set up for the election.

There was a line inside the church basement, and there was no air conditioning. People fanned themselves with newspapers as we waited our turns to vote.

When the officials scanned our licenses, they faced the same problems that they had at the first precinct. They couldn’t find us in the system. They had to restart their tablets. They reassured us—you should be here—but we weren’t there.

An official called the main offices to report the incident, and they confirmed that we were in the system, we were eligible to vote, and that we were supposed to vote at the original polling station.

We got back in the car. The sun was lower in the sky and traffic was heavier with commuters beginning their return trips home. I wondered, what would have happened if we didn't have a car? Would we have missed our chance to vote, if we had relied on the city's meager buses? And, were there people at that moment—in cars or sitting in traffic—caught in the same wild goose chase that we were in?

 

When we returned to the Plaza, the officials apologized profusely.

After I cast my ballot, I told them, “I’ll see you on November 8.”

But I walked away fuming. Did this happen because I had a Massachusetts—and presumably “progressive” ID? Because my last name was Li? Because we lived in Kansas City, which is a democratic area in this red state? Would this have happened if we had registered as Republicans?

 

On Election Day, Kyle and I scheduled time off work so we could vote in the morning.

I knew that women around the country were wearing pantsuits or suffragette white when they went to vote. After the issues that we faced in August, and reports of Trump supporters intimidating people at the polls, I didn't want to do anything that would bring more attention to me and Kyle.

It was the first time I ever had to stand in line to vote. The line was short but more people joined as we waited. The mood was tense and tired. Volunteers were trying to cheer people up by passing out donuts and coffee and trying to crack jokes, but no one was playing along. If anything, I think their attempts at making everyone smile only made us moodier.

It was twenty minutes before we received our ballots, and there were no problems like the ones we experienced during the Missouri primary. No one harassed us, we didn’t have to call the election office downtown. When the 30-something white man scanned my Massachusetts ID, my name appeared on the display, but the man was curt and grumbled as he passed my ballot into my hand.

 

This is something that has remained the same from Massachusetts to Missouri: the sideways glances I get from election officials when they see me enter the room or as I put my ballot filled-in with progressive initiatives into the counting machine. It’s a hard, resentful stare, exasperated that I actually showed up.

I’ve been getting these looks ever since I started voting.

Maybe you get them, too.

Before, I would want to tell them—Yup, I'm one of those anti-war, pro-choice, pro-love, pro-universal health care, pro-education, pro-free college tuition, student loan forgiveness, feminist, environmentalist millennials that you keep hearing about, and yes, I just voted to protect your social security and medicaid.

Now, I can just tell them I’m a Nasty Woman.

 

After, we were relieved, but listless.

I told Kyle, ”I don't know what to do with myself.”

There was no point in watching any coverage until later, when the polls started to close, but I was too anxious and excited to focus on work. It felt more momentous--too momentous to write fiction.

We were going to have our first woman president.

We went for a walk on the Plaza, and I saw a woman--middle-aged, white--wearing a bright red t-shirt. She had an ‘I Voted’ sticker above her heart.

I asked Kyle: "Wait--do you think that woman actually voted for Trump?"

Kyle asked: "Why do you say that?"

I told him: "Her bright red shirt?"

Kyle: "But don't people just wear any 'American' color to go vote?"

Me: "I don't think it works like that."

We stood on the street corner, waiting for the light to turn red. We agreed that there must be some women out there who would vote against their best interest.

"It's kinda sad," we decided.

He left for work and I returned to the apartment. I posted an obligatory 'I voted' sticker selfie on Instagram. I waited, not knowing that I was about to witness what happens when love doesn't win.