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Pollish Joke

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Iraq is arguably the major issue in today's election -- and while the vote in the Denver metro area is going better than the war in that far-away country, the qualitative difference isn't as sizable as it should be. KOA's morning show was filled with reports of problems in city after city, county after county. As for my experience, it can be summed up in one word: clusterfuck.

Given reported problems with electronic voting machines, I wanted to go the absentee route, but my wife convinced me that the tradition of gathering on election day with friends and neighbors to participate in our democracy was worth preserving. She's singing a different tune now, however. She arrived at our polling station, at Heritage United Methodist Church, near Chatfield High School in Jefferson County, at 6:45 a.m., so that she could be near the front of the line when voting started fifteen minutes later. The doors opened on time, and since she was in the number seven spot, she thought things would move quickly. Wrong: The election personnel on hand were still fiddling with the four voting machines available, and after ten minutes of struggle, they announced that three of them weren't operational. (They said two were "corrupted," and the print-out tape on a third was unreadable.) Moreover, the folks at the technical support office apparently were already overwhelmed. Staffers at Heritage had to leave at least one message before reaching a human.

Fortunately, the fourth voting machine was outwardly functional, giving voters hope that their choices would actually be registered. But the ballot was so long that my wife didn't finish her picks until 7:50 a.m. By that time, plenty of the early birds on hand were quite peckish. One guy called his boss to explain that he'd be late to work, and his superior was very understanding. Seems that the boss was stuck at his polling station, where four of eight voting machines were down.

I arrived at the church shortly before 8 a.m., after I dropped off my daughters at school. The line was enormous at that point, and no technicians had arrived. As I was presenting my driver's license, the person in charge called again and tried her best to use humor to her advantage: "I'm a Catholic," she said, "so I know how to make people feel guilty." Wit, though, was of little use. All the technicians had been dispatched, and the person answering for them had no idea when they might actually arrive at Heritage.

In an attempt to stave off further grumbling, election officials began offering people provisional ballots that they could fill out by hand. Given the number of people already waiting, I accepted and was handed a paper ballot and one of the few pens that were available. Because I'd brought a cheat sheet with me, I was able to finish in five minutes or so. Then I filled out the envelope I'd been given. Trouble was, the envelope was too small for the ballot, and I was worried that by folding it to fit, my ballot might have difficulty running smoothly through the machine used to count it. Nevertheless, the staffers urged me to fold it, so I did so. Next, they looked at the spaces on the envelope I'd been asked to fill out, and after satisfying themselves that I had done so correctly, they moved on to their own boxes. They couldn't figure out whether or not to check a couple of squares pertaining to registration, so they wound up guessing. Finally, I was instructed to tear off a stub from the envelope, and one woman pointed to a phone number on it.

"You can call within thirty days," she told me, "to find out if your vote counted."

So that's my election-day suspense -- not to find out who wins, but to discover if I actually managed to take part. -- Michael Roberts

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