The Vote My Mom Didn’t Cast

“By the way, we have to fix that.” -President Barack Obama on long lines at the polls, November 6, 2012

Yesterday, my family waited in line for 3 ½ hours to vote. They live in Columbia, South Carolina, having moved there from Ohio a few years ago, and it was a blustery, cold day. I was incredibly proud of them for sticking it out. But for my mom, sticking it out wasn’t an option.

A poll worker refused to let my mom avail of the curbside voting offered for seniors and people with disabilities. My mom is 65 and has various ailments that prevent her from standing for 3 hours straight, much less out in the cold, but because she had no handicap decal to “prove it,” she was forced to return home.

My sister insisted that my mom be accommodated. "Your website says for disabled and 65 and older. My mom is injured, and is 65." The response: "Well, there are are people in line who are in their 80s."

Right. According to my sister, the vast majority of the people in line were African American. Some were calling the election commission to complain of long lines, but there was no answer. This was nothing like 2008, when the wait was about 15 minutes. South Carolina saw record voter turnout yesterday, and across the country voters waited hours in line.

My mom returned home, disappointed and discouraged, but her spirits revived when President Obama was declared the victor. She voted for the first time in 2004, so this would only have been her 3rd time voting. I’ve already talked to her about registering as a mail-in voter, and I’m glad she’s happy that President Obama won. But it pisses me off that Rayanne the poll worker can so blithely deny my mom her fundamental right.

This doesn’t just happen in South Carolina--my first time voting in Berkeley, in the 2002 midterms, I had a similar experience. They didn’t have a record of me, and after the fact I learned that the poll worker at the main polling location should have given me a provisional ballot. But she didn’t. This is basic knowledge a poll worker should have, so I don’t know if she was totally incompetent, or based on my appearance thought me an insidious fraud and decided not to offer me a provisional ballot.

In South Carolina, my mother’s experience is just the tip of the iceberg. As a nation, we have work to do.

In the meantime, I celebrated my sister and brother for their long, cold day with these words from Sherman Alexie:
Dear folks waiting in line for hours to vote: You are bad ass patriots.