Dispatch from the voting booth outpost

Now I understand what it was like for those lonely pioneers who staked out a homestead on the vast prairie — miles away from the nearest town or neighbor — longing for a friendly face and human interaction.

My husband and I staffed the Democratic polling place for Precinct 6 in Stonewall on Election Day, March 4.

Yes, it’s a brave and lonely job, heading out into the heart of GOP country to man a desolate outpost, but with my stalwart companion by my side, I loaded provisions into the covered wagon (also known as my aging GMC Yukon) and headed out in the pre-dawn darkness.

Oh, I had been warned.

“Don’t go there,” some said.

“You could be under attack at any time,” others warned.

An “old-timer” shook his head in a prophetic warning, “It’s a lonely, lonely day.”

But, with the enthusiasm only novices can have, we headed out of Fredericksburg, undaunted, for the Chamber of Commerce Building, pulling into the parking lot at 6:30 a.m. to prepare for the day ahead. Only the faraway lights of Stonewall Elementary School offered reassurance.

Braving the elements (it was a damp 30 degrees when we arrived), we carted supplies into the cold, cavernous hall.

A moment later, lights were on, two heaters were starting to warm the air and the table of voting cubicles helped to make the place feel like home, sort of.

A wise veteran of previous election days came out of the darkness to offer his assistance and advice. We welcomed the company and waved a regretful goodbye after he told us he had voted early and headed on home.

Maybe the frontier isn’t so forbidding after all.

We began putting up the requisite signage: “No cell phone use within 100 feet of the polling place,” “No electioneering,” “Democrats vote here” — and started opening the supply boxes that Democratic County Chairman Bill Joseph and County Clerk Mary Lynn Rusche had so ably packed for us.

Forms were set out for every conceivable sort of voter — voters with ID, voters with ID whose names do not appear on the official list, voters with voter registration cards who aren’t on the list — you get the picture.

Rolls listing all eligible voters and multi-ply forms on which to record those brave souls who ventured to our outpost, ink pads to stamp “Voted” beside the names of the faithful — all this and more for every contingency was included.

But we didn’t come unprepared either.

We had fortified ourselves for the journey with provisions from McDonald’s, a Yeti full of bottled water, Cokes, juice, Tylenol and even a heater to point toward toes that had started to freeze once all the prep work was done.

Voting machines in place. Check.

Voting partitions equipped with pencils. Check.

Ballot box open. Check.

Ballots prepped and ready. Check.

Deep breath.  At last we were set to welcome voters.

And then the quiet descended.

Seven o’ clock came … 7:30, 8 … So this is how it’s going to be, I thought. It’s a test of patience, fortitude and endurance.

We read the voter rolls for Precinct 6, commenting on people we knew, counting the numbers of Kleins, Jenschkes, Weinheimers and Ottmers whose names graced the rolls of registered voters.

We read the morning paper. Ahh, news from the outside world.

Then, just about the time we were forgetting the sound of another human voice, it happened. Our first voter!

I was a little nervous. Would I get this brave soul accurately checked in?

Proper ID in hand, he waited patiently as I recorded his name, marked him on two lists and allowed him to sign in. Done!

He secured a ballot of his choice and made his way to the voting table. We exchanged pleasantries. Then, almost as soon as he had arrived, he was gone … and the quiet descended again.

9 a.m.

As the hours passed, we may not have had lines of voters stretching out the door, but the hardy souls who found their way to our polling place were eager and helped make the 12-hour day pass quickly.

No one wanted to use the voting machine (thankfully). No one forgot a photo ID. No one’s name didn’t match the official list. No one had moved.

It would have been nice to have more voters but democracy functioned smoothly.

7 p.m. already? Whew!

Collier is the retired editor of the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post.

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