Democracy stands in line…and stands…and stands

Today I thought I’d get over early to one of my designated polling locations to cast my vote in the Arizona state primary election. The spot is 1.6 miles from home, the Church of the Beatitudes at 7th Ave & Glendale, according to the helpful poll-locating website (although the website said 5th Ave…clearly the website had never been to church).

I say “early” because I left my campus at 2:30 pm thinking to beat the afternoon rush.

Arriving at the intersection of the church, I saw a long’ish line of maybe 30 or so people and thought, Well, 20 minutes won’t be too bad. After all, it’s just a single name being checked off.

But Holy Mother of Mary in a green hat! (as my own sainted mother might say).

I lucked out with a parking spot in a clearly too-small, poorly marked parking lot, followed the “Vote here” sign and came across a veritable beatitudes-worthy crowd.

Now, I say “crowd” but it wasn’t a crowd in the sense of people milling about waiting for loaves and fishes. This was a tortuous, serpentine, labyrinthine line that would have made Disneyland gasp in wonder. It wound around a fountain, through tented areas, under archways, criss-crossing the courtyard. It was bobbing and weaving, with little occasional breaks as peoplecourtyard line(777) trudged forward in spurts and fits. Actually, there was little spurting and fitting — I just wanted to say that. The line was simply not moving much.

acrossGlendale-parkinglot-line(788) courtyard-armpointer(780) parking lot line(785)













I tracked along the line occasionally asking for directions to the end as people politely pointed yonder.

Eventually I came to the tail end that I had glimpsed from my car at the intersection. Little did I know then that the wait time was being estimated at…wait for it…

…two and half hours.

I didn’t wait to verify because I beat my retreat in a minute.

Just out of curiosity, I had a backup polling place in mind–North Hills Church, supposedly about 4.1 miles farther.

I headed up to 19th Ave & Greenway, found the spot and at first it looked tame. The parking lot was spacious and appeared to have the possibility of open spaces. Once again I lucked out on getting a space. And once again I saw the gargantuan line stretching about a quarter mile. It actually took me 10 minutes just to exit the parking lot.

I came back home, made some coffee and decided to go back to the original scene of the crime at the Beatitudes. By now the line had extended a half-mile further, along Glendale Ave. Estimates now were in the three-to-four-hour range. A photog from the New York Times exchanged pleasantries with me. I chit-chatted with news crews from TV Channels 3 and 5.

The photos you see here are from my second visit, about 6 pm.

What the hell had happened?

According to radio reports and the TV news guys, the county decided to cut the number of polling places from 200 to 60 for this election cycle–a 70 percent reduction.

I talked with a mother who had brought two little girls with her.  She could have voted early but she wanted to give them a nice display of democracy in action, the voting booth…the very icon of our system of government.

I saw another mom with a 5-year-old girl in need of a bathroom. Someone told us the inside restrooms had clogged up at 4:15 pm. I took a break from picture-taking to help her find a facility.

I’m going to simply guess that by 6:15 or so the line snaked like a human intestine down the street and through the church campus about three miles worth.

Despite some radio reports of an hour wait, I knew these folks would be there for four more hours.

perseverance sign(783)

Day-after update: An NPR interview with one of the voters in Tempe indicated that the wait there was “3 hours and 53 minutes.” Way to go, election board! You’d think this was some republic just emerging from a formerly totalitarian regime with no experience in this pesky election process.

All photos (c) copyright 2016 Jim Veihdeffer

2 comments on “Democracy stands in line…and stands…and stands

  1. Oh, for fuck’s sake, why can’t every state just have a mail in ballot like Oregon? Pardon my French, but after moving here and experiencing the bliss of sticking it in the mail whenever I damned well feel like it, the whole voter ID and long lines thing in other states just gives me conniptions.

    • jveeds says:

      Actually, Arizona does have mail-in ballots. I just chose not to use one, mainly because I was waiting till the last minute to spring my voting trap but also because there’s a certain charm to indulging in the physical act of showing up at a polling place, observing the “no-soliciting-for-votes” demarcation, getting a little sticker from the polling volunteers and being a part of the day. I do love the phrase “sticking it in the mail” though.

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