When I pulled up to the church parking lot to vote, I could not believe the extraordinarily long line snaking in and out and around the Church of the Beatitudes, my usual polling place. It was 3:20 p.m. and I had just picked up my 31/2 year old daughter from pre-school. I also had my 12-week old baby with me.
I’ve always voted in person. It’s something that my own mother had instilled in me from a very young age. I feel like some of my earliest memories in childhood are of my mom taking me to the polls with her to vote. My mom was a first-generation American and my grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
I was on maternity leave, so I was able to get to the polls earlier than if I had been working at my job as an administrator at an independent school. Usually, I’m in and out within minutes. I’ve never once waited in a single line.
This time, there was not only a line of people, but there were lines of people in their cars and no parking in the church parking lot. So, I parked in the neighborhood behind the church a half-mile away.
I still didn’t realize the enormity of the situation.
By the time I joined the line, it was about 3:40. I had my infant in a stroller and my 3 1/2 year old was holding my hand.
It was so chaotic. I was on a narrow sidewalk next to a very busy street so I held my daughter’s hand tightly because we were a foot away from Glendale Avenue.
Two hours into the wait in line, the mayor of Phoenix [Greg Stanton], actually showed up to distribute cookies. The mayor’s office had started hearing about the fiasco. My 3 1/2 year old liked her cookie. There were some other kind people who came to distribute water bottles. I tried to encourage my daughter by telling her we would go get frozen yogurt when this was all over.
The church was clearly not equipped to handle the thousands of people who were required to vote there. So many people needed use the bathroom that it got backed up and there was sewage leaking onto the grass where we were all waiting. We were snaking around the sewage. It was absolutely ridiculous.
Four and a half later, I was at the threshold of the church itself.
Once I got into the church, checked in and showed my identification, I was then pointed to the table where I was supposed to pick up my ballot.
When I got there, I was told there were no ballots left for Democrats. Not a single one to be had. The stack of ballots for Republicans was over a foot high.
For the very first time in my life, I was starting to feel disenfranchised. I had been in line for four and a half hours at this point. There was plenty of time for the county to ensure that I and the hundreds of other Democrats in line would have a ballot available when we got inside the polling place.
I was then directed to another location in the church. It’s now going on five hours since I’ve been able to feed my infant in a private location. And I’m now sent to another area with my fellow Democrats for 25 minutes. There were well over 50 Democrats with me in this area and they kept coming and coming.
Finally, more Democratic ballots were dropped off.
By the time I voted, it was 8:05 p.m.
When I walked out, the sun had gone down and there were still hundreds of people in the line snaking around this church. I knew, based on my experience, that there was no way some of those people were going to be able to vote until after midnight. And that’s what happened. The final votes were not cast until after midnight.
I felt a sense of pride that people were standing their ground and refusing to give up their right to vote. But what was upsetting is that all the local news affiliates here in Phoenix were already calling the election. They were already naming the winners, which I’m sure was really disheartening to the people that I had seen still in line.
As someone who works full-time and has children, I can’t ever do something like that again. Usually I can’t even go to the polls until 5 after work. I was only able to stand in line that long because I happened to be on maternity leave. Who’s to tell how many people were unable to stay in line that long and didn’t exercise their right to vote?
I’ve never considered voting by mail or voting early just because I feel strongly about voting in person and instilling what it means to live in a democracy to my children. Now, for the first time in my life, I’m actually considering it.
Leslie Feldman, 34, is now a plaintiff in a lawsuit that will be filed by the Democratic Party and a group of Arizonans on Friday. This story was told to Sari Horwitz.