Talk about a treat without a trick. Knowing I’d be overseas on Election Day, I voted almost a week early at one of eight polling stations in the nation’s capital that opened in October. I drove right past the one closest to home because parking was impossible, and chose a more suburban ‘hood with a community center just a short block from a sprawling Safeway parking lot, my bank and a favorite rotisserie chicken joint. It was a multi-tasker’s dream location.
I chose to vote on Halloween, because, like Election Day, it is one of my favorite holidays. When else could I don that brown fuzzy Walgreen’s headband with pointy feline ears, and a matching tail that peeked out from under a leopard print coat? Sixty other folks were waiting to cast ballots when I arrived at 5 p.m., a multicultural mix of retirees, the fully employed, first-time teen voters coming from school, and the parents and grandparents of adorably costumed kids. Between yakking with several of them about candidates and issues, I had a few laughs with a women wearing awesome jack-o-lantern jewelry and batwing shades. We were the only Halloween-y grown-ups in the place.
The whole voting process took maybe 25 minutes and I was soon back on the main drag of Connecticut Avenue in a Norman Rockwell-esque promenade of trick-or-treaters; almost everyone stopped to take pictures with the Elvis impersonator handing out candy at the CVS.
Once home, a neighbor asked why I’d driven 30 minutes to vote since Washington is so solidly blue (Barack Obama topped 92 percent of the vote in 2008). Because, I explained, though we in the capital city pay billions in “state” taxes but get no real voice in the U.S. House and Senate, we are allowed to vote for president and vice president, plus a symbolic, but basically powerless, House “delegate.” More to the point this year, we have several hot races for city council, where several members are under major ethical clouds, from federal probes to a jail term. I wanted to vote at least one of those clowns out of a job, as well back ballot measures forcing crooks from office before they enter prison.
Besides, I love to vote. I am the child of immigrants and a complete mush-ball on the subject of democracy. Clearly, I’m not alone. My Post colleague Ruth Marcus notes that the National Conference of State Legislatures lists 32 states plus D.C. that allow in-person early voting, which on average begins 22 days before the election. Most of those same states, 27 in all plus D.C., allow no-excuse absentee voting. Washington state and Oregon run their elections entirely by mail. We’re on an upward trajectory here.
Nationally the total of 2008 early voters was 30 percent, but could hit 35 percent this year, says Michael McDonald of George Mason University in Virginia. Maryland, Louisiana, Iowa and Montana have already topped numbers from four years ago. And in key battlegrounds, where President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney have duked it out for months, early voters could account for 50 percent of the total.
Marcus, whose work I greatly admire, sounded wistful that the camaraderie and Election Day excitement might be diluted as people vote early and alone. At one polling place in Maryland after Hurricane Sandy did far less damage than feared, Marcus remarked that folks who had come out to vote “reminded me about what I like about Election Day — the neighborly lines at the local elementary school, the sense of common purpose, the we’re-all-in-this-together ritual of the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. I like wearing my corny ‘I voted’ sticker on Election Day. I like seeing yours. Early voting is the civic manifestation of the modern age: fragmented, individualistic and solitary. Once we all saw the same television show at the same time; now, we watch “Modern Family” whenever it is most convenient. We withdraw our cash from a machine when we need it, rather than racing to the bank before it closes. We scan our groceries as we shop and check out on our own.”
But she and I both found out that many, many of us do converge on our early voting centers, meaning the group dynamic continues. And the action is not just driven by the men at the top of the ticket. There are referendum issues all over the country on everything from casino gambling to gay marriage to the legalization of marijuana.
Marcus has decided to wait until Tuesday, the official Election Day, to vote with her neighbors. I’ve tucked my “early voter” sticker into my passport in case I decide to wear it as I take my morning coffee on a faraway beach or explore some ancient ruins. But not to worry. I left the Halloween cat ears and tail at home.
Annie Groer is a former Washington Post and PoliticsDaily.com writer and columnist whose work has also appeared in the New York Times, Town & Country and More. And yes, she’s still work on that alleged memoir.