Walking to the polls and down memory lane

By John Toth

Combining my civic responsibilities with exercise, I decided to walk to our early voting place last week rather than drive.

It was another pretty day along the Gulf Coast, nice and cool in May, which is, by itself, unique. A pleasant day to exercise outside by walking to vote.

These are local elections for city council posts and the Port of Freeport. There were no lines. The room where the voting machines were set up was empty, except for the clerks.

They were really nice and polite. I had to vote with a drivers’ license. Not because Texas requires voter ID, not yet, anyway, but because as soon as my voter registration card comes in the mail, it hides itself somewhere, not to be found until after the elections.

I looked at the sheet that voters signed. There were about 10 names on it, but it was only lunchtime.
Local races don’t attract too much attention. Many residents ignore them.

The election was held on Saturday, but I voted early in case I chose to go out of town for the weekend.
“What are you doing?” asked a friend.

“I’m going to vote.”

“Vote? you mean we have another chance to get rid of Obama?”

These are local elections. They have nothing to do with Obama. He seemed disappointed.

My wife and I went to a meeting to hear the city candidates a few weeks ago. One of them sold me the house I still live in. I coached another candidate’s son in Little League. I have known another candidate since he was an investigator for the Sheriff’s Department.

This is the local version of running for office. There are a lot of neat things about it, but one of them is not salary. Those who win pretty much serve as volunteers. The issues are none that anyone from another area would get too excited about – better roads, making the city more attractive for businesses, the downtown area, and so on. One candidate wants to reinstate prayer at council meetings.

These races are about ideology, practicality and volunteerism. And, a few times, about getting even, but that tends to backfire. Usually, there are enough votes remaining on a governing body to limit that sort of activity.

It just took a few minutes to cast the ballot. It was very short.

“Excuse me, but the screen doesn’t work on this one,” I complained to one of the clerks as I pushed on the screen.

“You have to turn the wheel,” she said. “It’s not touch-screen.”

Oh.

I started dialing the wheel on the right and began voting. It took some getting used to, but the wheel turned fast enough. It’s so “last decade,” but it costs money to change out voting machines. I doubt the county is going to do it anytime soon.

These are the machines the county bought after they got rid of the punch card machines, with which we really didn’t have any problems. But, after Florida’s “hanging chads” controversy in the 2000 presidential race, this county, like others, replaced the punch card system.

Before the hanging chads incident became infamous, we had a very close countywide race. I think there was a 16-vote difference. The loser asked for a recount, and the punch card counters were fired up again. I think their final tally was the same, or just a few votes off, but not 16.

No hanging chads here, but that is an old issue. Let’s get back to the dialing machines.They remind me of my old cellphone – with a trackball. I ended up replacing that with a touch-screen phone.

After voting, I took a different route back to the house, through what used to be the Little League fields on which my sons played, where I coached them, and spent way too many hours on weekend and weeknights.

The field has been replaced by fancy new fields. Then I cut across to where my kids used to go to junior high school. It is also vacant since the school was moved to the former high school building when a new high school was built a couple of years ago.

Overall, a good day for a long walk, voting, and a trip down memory lane. Times are changing, except perhaps for turning that little dial on the voting machine. That will be with us for a while.

By the way, I missed all of the candidates, or their representatives, that hang around outside voting places during the big elections. I could have used a few more pencils, and my wife likes those nail files they give out to voters.