17 April 2007

Adventures in Voting

Not only was today Tax Day...here in Illinois, it was also Election Day. If taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society, our family will be experiencing a lot of civilization this year. I'm just hoping that someday they move Tax Day to coincide with the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

The races on today's ballot, at least around here, were for educational offices like school board and community college trustees. Almost all were uncontested. "Choose two," and there were only two candidates. Or "choose one," and there was only one candidate. The one exception, and the primary motivation for us casting our ballots, was for the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school board. There were four candidates, but only three open seats. On one level, this election doesn't affect us: as homeschoolers, we will never send our children to the local public schools --- or any public schools. But, in a place like this, where the closest Catholic school is 18 miles away, public schools are the reality for almost every other family. School boards can make important decisions about what will be taught---and what will not be taught---to the children of those families. Two of the four candidates are friends of ours from the parish, and active in the Knights of Columbus; we thought it very important to cast our ballots in support of those two voices on the Board.

We took all three kids with us, as they enjoy the whole polling place experience as much as we do. And I still remember going to the polling place with my mother when I was a child; I think that may be the origin of my fascination with politics. As we pulled in to the Wall Township Hall, we gave them the usual high-minded words about civic duty and participation, and what a great country America is, and the value of showing up on election day. Funny, though, despite the "Polling Place" sign and American flag outside, there were no other cars in the gravel parking lot. Puzzled, we opened the door...and no lights were on. The place was cold and deserted. Had turnout been so light that they closed early? If so, why hadn't they locked the door?

We went back to the minivan and talked it over. The county seat was about 10 miles away; surely we could cast a ballot at the County Clerk's office. And perhaps they could tell us why the election judges had all left.

As we drove to Paxton, we passed the farm of one of the school board candidates. Much to our amusement, he pulled out in his pickup truck just ahead of us --- and we ended up following him all the way to town. "He's why we're doing this," I thought.

The Clerk's office was open, and the young woman immediately recognized me; I'd been in the day before, getting a sample ballot. "Can we still vote?" I asked, glancing at the clock. "Our polling place shut down."

"Wall Township, right?" she asked, astonished. "They haven't shut down."

"We walked in, the lights were off, and nobody was there," I explained.

She thought for a moment, then her eyes went wide open. "Ohhhhhh!" she exclaimed. "They moved it."

"But the polling place sign was up, with the flag," I told her.

"No, no," she said. "They moved it to the new addition part of the building, around back."

"I thought that was a storage shed over there," I frowned.

"It was. They finished it off. Sorry about that. I should've told you yesterday when you were in here."

"Can we just vote here at the Clerk's office?" I asked.

"Sorry," she replied. "You have to vote at your precinct. Sorry again about that."

I grumbled a bit, but we soon loaded the kids in the car and were cruising back toward Wall Township. We easily could've gone home. But at this point, casting a ballot was no longer about high-minded civics ideals...or even about getting two good guys re-elected to the School Board. This was now about The Principle Of The Thing. We'd already spent the better part of an hour driving all over rural Ford County. There was no way we were going home with nothing to show for it. Besides, elections are what I do for a living. I simply couldn't not vote.

We soon arrived at the Township Hall, drove around to the back, and found where the poll workers had parked. It was a beautiful, sunny day and they had the doors propped open; we were soon chatting and joking around with them. What's amazing is that they had FOUR election judges manning the precinct...and yet, at 5:15pm, my wife and I were Voter #23 and Voter #24 that they'd gotten all day. By contrast, in last year's primary, I think we were #55 and #56 at about the same time of day.

How rural is this place? Wall Township includes 36 square miles. There are no retail business establishments I know of. According to the 2000 Census, there were only 218 people in those 36 square miles, 148 of them aged 18 or older. Every single one of those 218 was white, making my wife now the only minority in the township.

UPDATE: We learned the next morning that our two friends from the parish were indeed re-elected to the school board. So, I guess all is truly well that ends well.

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