The Long Strange Road

Voting in Atlanta, 2016

On Election Day, 1968, things were different.

Or maybe not. The summer before, the Democratic National Convention had been convulsed by violence. All over America, people were lying down in front of buses of draftees, and weeping, weeping. Weeping with rage, with grief, from tear gas. But I was a four-year-old in Madison, WI; I knew none of that.

That November afternoon, my mother took me and my younger brother with her when she went to vote. The sun sets early this time of year in the Midwest and the polling place was some sort of institutional space I’d only seen before in daylight. My view was a forest of pants legs. I sweltered inside my winter coat, my knitted hat, my scarf, my mittens as we waited, edged forward, waited again.

Once we got to it, the voting booth was a private space, hardly big enough to hold the three of us and my brother’s stroller. My mother drew closed the curtain that clattered on its rings and lifted me to see the strange mechanism of the levers.

Would it be too much — to say there was something about the process that felt mysterious and almost holy?