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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Gwenyfar Rohler celebrates Election Day in a special way

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Gwenyfar visits the polls for the first time with her partner, Jock, and celebrates a long-awaited milestone.

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“The lady behind the counter at Food Lion asked me if it was a presidential election,” Jock sighed. For the first time since he moved to the U.S. in 1984, he was wearing an “I Voted!” sticker on Election Day. He took the oath and officially became a U.S. citizen last summer. At the ceremony in Durham, the League of Women Voters stood by to hand each new citizen a voter registration form. The next week I hand-walked Jock’s voter registration into the NHC Board of Elections.

We have voter registration at the bookstore and frequently offer to put a stamp on forms and mail them for people (I also carry them in my purse for folks who wish to update voter registration). But this one was particularly important to me. So, I went in person to the Board of Elections. When I handed it in, I asked the lady to check it and make sure everything was OK. She confirmed it should be fine.

A few weeks later, Jock’s voter registration card arrived in the mail to confirm he would vote with me at Williston Middle School in the fall. We had such a whirlwind getting his citizenship, voter registration and new passport, it felt like summer was completely devoted to government paperwork.

There are few things as important to me as voting. My earliest memories include going to the polls with my parents and many election days spent standing just beyond the “No Electioneering Beyond This Point” signs to hand out leaflets for candidates or issues of importance. Countless election nights were spent at the courthouse to watch returns come in and celebrate or console each other over results. Now, finally, Jock was going to vote with me. For 14 years I have wanted this.

“Is someone going to show me how to use the electronic machine?” Jock asked. He had not voted since he left Canada in the early 1980s and the touch-screen computer voting machine was not in use then.

“Yes,” I assured. “Someone will walk you over there, make sure the correct ballot is loaded and that you are comfortable with the process.”

There are days he can take more needling than others, so I didn’t mention if he needed the ballot read to him, an election official would also do that.

“Usually voting is in the library, but the presidential election was in the gym. My guess is that since there will be a small turnout, they’ll have it in the library,” I opined as we drove down 10th Street. We saw our next-door neighbors walking back from the polls. They waved and pointed to their “I Voted” stickers.

“Here, let’s ask this nice lady.” Jock slowed down next to the crossing guard, who directed us through a parking lot to the gymnasium.

“I think she has given those directions a lot today,” I commented.

We passed the sign and bell for curbside voting, the service for people who really cannot walk in to vote. An election official will come outside and fill out a ballot, literally at the curbside with the voter. It’s like going through a drive-thru, but for democracy instead of hamburgers and milkshakes. We utilized the service during the last election my father voted in. He sat there with the passenger’s side door open, and the election official came out with a ballot on a clipboard. They visited and had a great time while choosing county commission candidates. At the end, the election official waved goodbye and we drove off into the sunset. That night we didn’t brave the crowds to go in person to watch the returns together, but we watched them come in on the Board of Election’s website and talked via phone about the results.

This year Jock and I were met at the door by an election official and guided over to the tables to check in and verify our information.

“Take this and go stand on the yellow line in front of the basketball goal,” I was instructed.

When I finished voting, I turned to look for Jock. He was still at the check-in table.

“Are you finished?” an election official gestured toward the door.

“I want to say ‘hi’ to my friend,” I indicated a far table where I noticed my friend working as an election official. We chatted a bit and got caught up; meanwhile, I watched Jock pull out his wallet.

“Hmmmm, this isn’t looking so good,” I thought.

“Hey! There’s Beth and Ben!” I waved to another set of neighbors across the gym. This was too much and we were very kindly asked to leave the polling place if we wanted to visit.

“You can stand in the hallway if you want,” the nice election official offered. But she was right, we were starting to distract the people around us. Finally, Jock emerged wearing his sticker.

“So what happened?” I queried.

“They gave me a provisional ballot,” Jock answered.

“What does that mean?” Beth asked.

“That means they won’t count his ballot unless there is a run off,” I answered. That’s not strictly the case. The BOE will review his eligibility and decide if his vote can be counted or not. But without a run-off or a close race, it is unlikely it will change the outcome of a race.

“Well, they didn’t have me on the rolls. They had Darwin at our address, but not me.”
Since Jock’s son, Darwin, hasn’t voted in this precinct for well over a decade, that was a bit of a surprise. “But they didn’t have you?” I asked. “But I hand-walked your registration in there!”
Jock shook his head and continued to explain how they registered him again and gave him a provisional ballot. But he did vote and he got his sticker!

So it turns out we did not vote for the same candidates. As Jock rattled off his reasons behind his final decisions, I silently blessed Susan B. Anthony, who joined a group of women to vote on November 5, 1872, in an act calculated to draw attention to Women’s Suffrage. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to the vote was ratified nationally in 1920. (Did you know North Carolina did not get around to ratifying it until 1971?)

We walked back out into the cool autumn air and surveyed the dedicated campaigners standing just beyond the perimeter for electioneering. Signs stuck out of the ground every which way, like a deranged and highly verbal toadstool patch. On the way to the truck, one of the candidates waved to us and thanked us for voting.

“Thanks for running!” I called back.

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