Today is Election Day in New Jersey–our primary election. For months I’ve been blathering on and on like a fan-boy about the virtues and wonders of the Democratic front runner for Congress in New Jersey’s 11th district, Mikie Sherrill. I was a fan way before the Times was. I went to her meetings. I contributed dutifully to her campaign via Blue Wave. At the last meeting, I grabbed a “Mikie Sherrill for Congress” lawn sign–not that I have a lawn. Today was going to be the proud day when, at last, I voted for her. Indeed, I Facebooked my intentions the night before:
My votes for the primary election: a “yes” to Mikie Sherrill for 11th district congressional representative, a “no” to Robert Menendez for US Senate.
I’d cross out the entire Republican slate if I could. But I’ll save that for November.
And I would, if I could. But I’ll get to that.
So I walk a few blocks to my local polling station at Bloomfield’s so-called Civic Center. After encountering some confusion about my name, I sign the ledger and get my little ticket. I walk into the voting booth. Locking on to the A-line Democratic column, I set my finger on a trajectory for “Mikie Sherrill.” I press the button.
I press the button.
I press the button.
“Hey,” I say to the ill-clad, shiftless youth in charge of the machine. “It’s not lighting up.”
“Right,” he rejoins, as if speaking to an all-out fool, “The Republican candidates are on the right. You’re pressing the wrong buttons.”
The Republican candidates? But I’m a Democrat.
“But I’m a Democrat.”
“No, but your ticket says Republican.”
“But I’m a Democrat.”
“But your ticket says Republican.”
Time for intervention from a higher authority. Time to speak to this kid’s manager.
“He says he’s a Democrat,” says the youthful volunteer to one of his superiors, “but his ticket is Republican.”
“Then he’s a Republican,” she says, patly.
“Si, es Republicano,” someone else says, under her breath. Apparently, I’ve lost the Hispanic vote without trying, or even running. Mercifully, no one’s speaking Russian.
“I’m a Democrat!” I yell.
A controversy has now broken out in Bloomfield Civic Center. The well-dressed brown man is listed as a Republican, but claims to be a Democrat.
“I’m a Democrat!” I yell, again.
It’s almost like I’m trying to convince myself.
The truth is, once upon a time, I was a Republican. (I admit it.) I registered as one in the early 1990s. Eventually, succumbing to disillusionment with the Grand Old Party (of proto-fascist psychopaths), I gave up on them, went into a complete funk, and stopped voting altogether–vowing never to vote for anyone again (standard break-up behavior), but leaving my Republican party affiliation in place, and forgetting all about it for the next few decades. Sometime in 2014, I decided that enough was enough, and changed my affiliation to Democrat. I went out of my way to do it. I remember doing it. In fact, I made a big deal out of doing it. I jubilantly did the paperwork, sent it the County Clerk, and got a confirmation. Friends made fun of me. I guess it wasn’t enough.
I think I’m a Democrat. So I am a Democrat. Right? It sounds right.
“Well,” I say in a minatory tone of voice vaguely suggesting a threat, “I’m not voting Republican.”
Somebody gives me a lecture about how the primary system works in New Jersey.
“I know it’s a primary. I know how the system works. I just want to vote Democratic.”
“Well, you can’t vote Democrat in a primary if you’re a Republican.”
“But I’m a Democrat!” I yell. I’m yelling now. Actually, I was yelling before.
At this point, the whole of the Bloomfield Civic Center knows my (supposed) party affiliation, including Security. They look concerned. Democrats don’t usually act this way. I say I’m a Democrat, but I’m acting like a Republican. I can just see them wondering: “Is he armed?” The question comes up every now and then.
“Let him vote for who he wants to!” one lady interjects. “If he’s a Democrat, let him vote Democrat. What’s the big deal?” A voice of reason. An insouciant voice of reason, but still.
“No, he can’t vote Democrat. He’s a Republican. The book says he’s a Republican.”
“It’s an error,” I say, in exasperation. “It’s a clerical error. I’ve been a Democrat for years. For years.” Well, four years. Does it matter that I voted for Hillary? I’m pleading now. I almost feel like they’re going to give in.
“Well, if it’s an errah, you’re gonna haveta call the County Clerk and rectify it, but for now, you’re a Republican.”
OMG. The pedant. The bureaucrat. Bloomfield’s answer to Javert. Little Ms. Can’t Be Wrong. “Rectify it.” Not fix it, but “rectify it.” And oh: “Call the County Clerk.” The County fucking Clerk is why I’m in this situation in the first place. Bureaucracy! For a second, I almost feel the old Republican instincts coming back.
Obviously, they’re not going to give in. This is Bloomfield. There are rules.
A lady steps up, putting her very body between me and the polling booth, as if to guard its integrity from the breach of procedure that my hapless attempt to vote Democratic might produce. “You can’t vote Democrat,” she says with the finality of a librarian who’s really going to make you pay full price for those DVDs that are three days overdue.
“Well, then,” I say with the finality of a seven year old who’s on the verge of a serious temper tantrum. “Then I’m not voting.”
A hush falls over the scene. Not voting? Who does that? Who walks all the way to a polling station, walks into the booth, then refuses to vote?
“Well you have to,” says the lady who signed me in. “You signed your name in the ledger, you went into the booth, and we closed the curtain on you. You’re already in the system.”
“The system.” So I’m just part of the system now. Another brick in the wall. Another signature in the ledger. Another guy behind the curtain. Once you’re in the system, it’s a done deal. I wonder what would happen if I just adamantly refused to vote. What would they do? Arrest me? The civil rights movement bled for the right to vote, so why not bleed for the right not to vote? You have to admit, it’s original. For a second, I consider the possibility that I might be doing something unprecedented in the annals of civil disobedience. I briefly imagine my name valorized for this achievement in the pages of a magnificent work of historiography that no one will read, or even buy. I see twelfth graders misspelling my name on the AP U.S. History Exam in the year 2050.
I give in. There’s no point. I accept my fate, contemplating the voting booth I’m obliged to enter, which now has the aspect of an electric chair. An electoral electric chair.
“Well, I don’t want to vote Republican,” I mutter, almost sotto voce.
“Ya haveta,” says some walking stereotype of a Jersey election volunteer. “Ya got no choice. Ya haveta vote Republican. Sawwrry.”
“Aww, just vote whoever, you know?” says another one, trying to be helpful.
So it’s come to this. Just plain coercion. The degradation of the voting process, the transmogrification of each vote into a mere fungible commodity. I shall write to the Times. I walk into the booth, feeling like an idiotic–yet ironic–personification of the concept of “voter fraud.” Now what?
And then it dawns on me. I have to vote Republican, right? And I said I wanted to wipe out the Republican slate, right?
So I vote “write in” under each of the columns for the Republican candidates. And I write in a big, fat “NO” underneath each one:
I can just see the Republicans reeling from the onslaught.
The worst thing is that I’m moving out of district in a few weeks. So no, I won’t get a second chance to vote for Mikie Sherrill during the general elections. After all this fan-boy hullaballoo, I have a lawn sign without a lawn, a wasted primary vote, and ultimately, no possibility of voting for my idol at all.
But I crossed out the entire Republican slate, didn’t I? With one hand. Without even trying. That’ll show them.
Well, whatever. God bless America.