On Tuesday, October 5th, I did something that a lot of people reading this won't do until four weeks from now. I voted in the 2010 midterm elections.
Many wait until the first Tuesday in November to fulfill this civic duty, but while the idea of long lines (for both registration and voting itself), possible voter caging making your trip longer, and a crowded area meant to hold about half the capacity it eventually will may SEEM appealing to some, voting early allows a person the ease of no lines, no wait, and the ability to leave Election Day free to do other things.
It's kind of like filing your taxes before April 15. Most people do that -- why shouldn't we vote early too?
I arrived at 210 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. around 11:50 Tuesday morning, having just left work for lunch about twenty minutes earlier. The City-County Building was relatively empty, save for the busy souls who are employed there, and I had no trouble looking up the elections room -- 103, right on the first floor, and as it was, right in front of me. Of course.
I entered a larger room with about four or five administrators inside, and one other person trying to vote that day. The older woman had come to fill out her registration information as well. Since I had voted in the primary earlier this fall, I was already registered, which meant I could skip to the actual act of voting right away. To learn how you can register before voting, click here, although you can do so when you vote, either early or on election day (again, taking less time if you choose to vote early).
A thirty- to forty-something man helped me with my ballot, though I was already familiar with the voting procedures before that time. Vote for one candidate per office, or check off the party you prefer the most if you want to do a "straight-ballot" vote. (Though I did vote for every candidate belonging to a particular party -- and if you're a regular reader, you should know which party that is -- I never choose that straight-ballot option. Call it superstition...it makes more sense to support each person individually, at least to me.)
After I was finished and had reviewed my votes, I folded up the ballot and palced it in the envelope, sealing it with the envelope sealer on the man's desk. "I don't want to spread my cold anymore than I already have," I joked. Nobody laughed, just nervous looks.
By this point, apparently unknown to me, the number in the room had swelled -- to a staggering four people! I signed the envelope in the man's presence (the signature required a witness), and he assured me that my vote would be counted. "We'll send it to your polling place on November 2nd," he said.
In the end, the entire process took about 10 minutes, five of which were spent trying to find the room that was right in front of me the whole time. It could have taken longer had I needed to register to vote, but having had the experience of registering on primary election day earlier this fall, I know that it would have only taken five minutes tops to do so. (Requirements to register are here.)
Many people want to vote on Election Day because it's a familiar ritual that has been respected for many generations. I still remember standing in the voting booth with my parents when they "pulled the lever" -- a voting process that is unfamiliar to many now. It's a nostalgic feeling of worth, of performing your patriotic duty the same day as millions of other Americans.
But there's also a sense of pride in voting early. There's more than a feeling of "worth" involved -- there's a feeling of being one of the first to express your views, one of the first to help decide how our country will be run in the next couple of years.
Voting early is convenient (do it any day between now and Election Day), fast (hardly any lines), and ultimately helpful to others (it eases the work of election workers on Election Day, and lessens the line congestion for those who do vote on that day).
Make a difference this year, and vote. But make things a lot easier on yourself, too, by voting early. Your mind will be at ease knowing that you won't have to deal with traffic congestion and long lines at the polling places on Election Day.
In Madison, you can vote at the City-County Building at 210 Martin Luther King Blvd. near the Capitol building. For all other areas, you can vote early at your municipal clerk's office. A list of those places can be found here.