i had never voted with a punch card before. each time i had voted in utah it was with an electronic voting machine, which was rather simple: press your finger on the name of the guy you are voting for, watch it change color, and then press confirm to move onto the next one. these punch cards scared me. it's not that they are difficult to use, any child could do it. it's that this year i felt my vote was more important than ever.
i wasn't too worried about my vote for obama, whose electoral votes were pretty much locked in california. i was much more worried about proposition 8 where a simple majority (50% +1) could strip away the rights of california couples because of their sexual orientation.
is the ballot fully inserted? check. are the two red knobs poking through the holes? check. obama/biden. punch. did it punch through? check. not too difficult... prop 8. the space next to 'no'. check. ok. that's the right spot, right? ok. double check. ok. punch. did it punch through? check. double check. am i sure i punch the right one? check. double check. triple check. alright...
i turned in my ballot, watched it get counted, and left the building with a sticker on my chest telling the world that i had just participated in our democratic process.
outside the polling station in the parking lot stood a couple of volunteers with their last attempts to urge voters to vote down proposition 8. in blue with red and white lettering their signs read:
VOTE NO ON PROP 8
UNFAIR & WRONG
i walked up to one of the volunteers and thanked her for her work. her name was jeanette. with her cheerful smile she thanked me and wished me a good day.
as i pulled out of the parking lot i noticed a woman across the street standing in her yard which was thoroughly decorated with signs supporting proposition 8. she sat in a lawn chair near the road holding a yellow sign with baby blue lettering:
VOTE YES ON PROP 8
she was also smiling. though i obviously disagreed with her, i admired her braving the cool weather and possible scorn for going out of her way to support what she thought was best.
'you need to go back and help jeanette'
in mormon lingo, we call it the still small voice. i tried to ignore it at first as it was almost noon and i had a lot of studying to do before my 4pm class. the more i tried to ignore it though, the stronger it became until i knew i needed to go back. i made myself a quick lunch, read as much as i could in an hour, and drove back to the polling station a few miles away.
the woman in her yard, who looked awfully like a mormon mother, was still outside. just inside the parking lot stood jeanette and another guy smiling and waving with their signs as cars pulled in.
"hey. do you have an extra sign i can hold for a while?"
she handed me a sign and asked how long i could help. for a couple hours, i told her, i have a class at 4 and have some studying left to do before then. she thanked me and told me a short list of rules about how far i away i need to be from the door of the polling station, about not being confrontive, etc, and said she was glad i want to help as she and the other guy would have to leave shortly for a break and would return with new volunteers.
i picked a spot near the entrance of the parking lot, turned on my ipod, and began smiling with my sign to all the cars coming in.
i am completely serious when i say that this was a deeply spiritual experience for me.
within 15 minutes, the other volunteers left for their break and i was left alone in the parking lot with my sign. the clouds began to block out the sun and cool breeze began to blow, just enough to make me slightly uncomfortable in my shorts and thin running jacket.
judging by the responses of those in the cars, i began to feel confident that the amendment would not pass. i received far more gestures of appreciation (smiles, thumbs up, and waves) than i received gestures of disapproval (disgusted frowns, thumbs dowm, and the occasional middle finger). though i had to remind myself that perhaps most who made no gesture at all were also going to vote yes on the measure.
two hours went by and i was still alone. instead of volunteers returning to take my place, the woman across the street returned with her yellow and baby blue sign, this time accompanied with her 8 or so year old son. he seemed excited to help and shouted out 'vote yes on prop 8!' as loud as his little voice could. it was getting much colder now and i wasn't sure how much longer i could stay out.
and yet i couldn't leave. i didn't want to leave.
the humid cold began to numb my fingers, requiring me to alternate which hand would receive some warmth in a pocket as the other held the sign, and a lingering cough from a cold i have had began to slightly increase and worsen. my legs were cold and my weak back was starting to ache from standing in place for so long.
a woman came up and thanked me for doing this. marilise. she grew up in claremont and said it took some courage to do this out here as claremont is fairly conservative. i told her i was more worried about people from my church seeing me and making judgments.
another woman in a white van pulled up, rolled down her window, and began yelling at me. she accused me of breaking the law with what i was doing. i smiled and said that i was well far enough away from the doors and that i was fine. she said she was going to call the police. i told her to do that and wished her a good day. she told me to go to hell and drove off.
an elderly couple drove by and smiled, both of them giving me a big thumb up.
a man about my age drove by with his middle finger waving proudly.
a married couple, middle aged, rolled their windows down to point their thumbs to the ground. they frowned at me with disgust. i wonder what it was that i was doing to them. am i hurting you? am i taking away any of your rights? what is it that i am doing to you?
a man holding his young son's hand approached me. he had his 'i voted' sticker on his chest. thank you, he said, thank you for standing out here and doing this. he asked if i was a student out here. we chatted for a few minutes, then he went away.
an elderly man drove by yelling something i couldn't quite understand. i'm pretty sure he didn't like what i was doing. again i wondered what it was that i was doing to him.
another hour passed and no volunteers had arrived. the woman across the street was now alone. she was looking at me. i wondered what she thought of me. was i her enemy? did she also think that i was somehow trying to hurt her?
it was getting really cold and my class had just started. my back ached and i needed to crouch in between cars to stretch my muscles. my fingers felt even more numb. i couldn't leave though. this felt too good. too right.
i don't know exactly why i felt i needed to be out there. i'm pretty sure most voters were already set with how they were going to vote. perhaps, i thought, there might just be someone or a few persons who might see me, alone with my sign in the cold, and that seeing me might just influence them to change their mind, or might finally convince the undecided. perhaps after seeing me, they would feel inspired to call and encourage friends to vote, or something. or maybe it was just for me. whatever it was, that small voice warmed what should have been frozen and encouraged me to stay. i decided to stick around for another hour until it began to get dark.
more people drove by and smiled or waved. a few others frowned or pointed their thumbs down.
a man in an suv stopped on the road, rolled down his window and yelled to catch my attention. when i looked his way he stuck out his hand with his finger held high.
others drove by and smiled and waved. others frowned. some thumbs up. another down. another middle finger.
a middle aged man in the parking lot stepped out of his car and approached me.
"thanks. i am one of those guys who hopes to get married soon."
tears welled up in my eyes. i wanted to hug him and beg for his forgiveness. i wanted to tell him how sorry i was for all who used fear and ignorance to hurt him. i wanted his forgiveness for the actions of my church. i wanted him to know that i knew that what they and so many others were doing was wrong, and hoped that he would forgive them for they know not what they do.
instead i smiled and wished him luck.
as the sun finished setting over the horizon, i wondered if and how we could be forgiven for what we have done.
driving out of the parking lot, the woman across the street was still there. i smiled and gave her a friendly wave. she smiled and waved back.
active, believing Latter-day Saint.