‘What’s Going On?’ A Detroit voter’s frustrating experience

I voted... I think...“Ma’am, are you okay?”

The woman I was speaking to was all alone, facing a wall covered with brightly colored line drawings. She was bundled up for the cold – knit cap, gloves, fleece lined hooded coat, grey sweatshirt, and black jogging pants. Her eyes were downcast. Sitting in a motorized wheelchair, all she could do was wait.

I’d just come down a flight of about eight small stairs located in my voting place, a neighborhood elementary school, finishing up a call to my mom about what to expect when she came to vote. Looking up, I saw this patient-but-perplexed potential voter sitting by herself.

“Oh, I’m alright,” she said softly. “The man just took my papers to see what I need to do next.”

I don’t know and didn’t see the man to whom she was referring, and I assumed her papers were her picture ID and her voter registration card.

“Oh, okay.” I said, looking up the stairs, but not seeing anyone coming back to assist her. “Would you like me to wait with you?”

“No, I’ll be fine,” she replied, thanking me for checking. “I don’t understand why they moved things around. We used to vote in there,” she continued, pointing to a cafeteria piled full of tiny tables and chairs.

It was one of several frustrating obstacles voters at this school encountered as the polls opened this morning. Signage at the one entrance to the building open when I arrived seemed to direct people down a flight of stairs to the school’s dimly lit basement instead of up the stairs to the actual voting location, a cramped auditorium about half the size of the school’s cafeteria where voting has taken place in the past. The room’s set up only allowed for one entrance and exit point, creating a bottleneck. The precinct signage was filled in with what appeared to be pencil or a pen running out of ink, so it was hard to read where one was supposed to go.

When I walked in the room, I was directed to the wrong precinct. There, I was told by a poll worker it appeared I was not a registered voter. After answering a couple of questions, I was finally directed to the correct set of tables to place my vote. As I filled out my paperwork and presented my ID to get my ballot, I noticed I was voter #24 on the register.

“It’s busier at this time today than it was during the primary,” I said to the poll worker seated in front of me. “Do you think this will be a steady day for you?” She just shrugged, never looking up.

“I just keep looking at the clock and hoping that it’s later than it is,” she said wearily. “Right now, I want it to be 10:00.”

The clock on the wall above her read 1:45, the second hand not moving. I looked at my phone. It was only 8:15.

She handed me a blank ballot without looking up. I walked to one of the many unlit voting booths (there weren’t electrical outlets nearby), made my choices, and walked over to have my ballot tallied. It was repeatedly rejected. I’d try to insert my ballot, but the machine would push it back, returning the error message, “NO DATA AVAILABLE.” It took three of us – a poll worker, a supervisor and I – nearly ten tries before finally getting my ballot to go through.

“I hope I didn’t break the machine,” I said sheepishly, trying to make light of the situation. The poll workers just shrugged. One of them handed me a sticker that read “I VOTED! DID YOU??” I hoped I had.

As I was leaving, a man was walking back and forth with a large metal “VOTE HERE” sign trying to find the right place to direct voters. The line to get into the auditorium was snaking around a corner, making it more difficult for people to enter and exit the room. I ran into a woman who, by her own admission, hadn’t voted in years trying to figure out if she was in the right place. She said she’d gone to the recreation center where she voted the last time only to be turned away. I pointed her towards the auditorium and descended the stairs. That’s when I met the woman in the wheelchair.

“I wonder why it has to be like this?” she asked softly.

I simply shrugged, not knowing what to say in reply.

Tracey Morris

Tracey Morris is the author of, “You Said You Wanted to See Me Naked: An Autobiographical Poem Cycle.” Her work has recently been published by Rust Belt Chic Press, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Springfed Arts Writing Contest.