Primary Day, Ohio

I glance at the clock, and it's 11:05. It's the third time I've glanced at the clock this morning, each instance-- 7:45, 9:15-- causing me to roll over and go back to sleep. I haven't been sleeping well this week, and need to catch up when I can, especially since I find myself going to bed at 2 a.m. or so. I'm fighting a head cold. It's raining. It's Primary Day.

I get out of bed, and put Cleveland sports radio on as I clean up and get dressed. The local sports guy, "Rizzo," is chatting with his sidekick (whose name I don't catch), and a 23-year-old woman (they keep mentioning her age)--who seems to work as a production assistant or something--about everyone's love lives. One has started dating, one's looking for a date, and several people are calling in with requests to marry a cow. That this conversation is occasionally punctuated by ads for the local jewelry store, Jared's, which heavily promotes its skills in facilitating happy marriages ("It can only be Jared's!!," the jingle wails), only makes all the cow talk that much more ironic. I pull on my favorite sweater and remind myself: it's Primary Day!

It's wet and cold and gray. Storm clouds look ominous. Not a good sign on a day when everyone should be going to the polls. On the way to my polling place, I stop by the Art Library to drop off an overdue tape. The attendent behind the counter gives me a blank look as I turn the tape in. Blank looks? On Primary Day?

Outside the church where I will vote, two dedicated, seemingly college-aged young men are working at at "Non-Partisan Voter's Help Guide" table, protected from the drizzle by a red tarp (in this bluest of cities, no less!). There's a diversity flag on the door, which is nice, and not something I saw a lot of at churches in Gainesville. A couple of twists and turns down the hall get me to the polling room, a big rec room that's been coverted for the day. It's not as crowded as I thought it would be-- I voted here in the 2006 midterms, but had heard horrror stories of long lines in Cleveland in 2004, and thought the passions of a presidential year might mean bigger crowds. Maybe it's the hour, maybe it's the rain, but everything feels calm and orderly and not too frenzied here. There are three tables set up, to represent the different areas of the town that this polling place covers, and to make sure folks are actually registered. The Diebold machines lurk ominously to one side of the room. After convincing the polling person that I was indeed the "Brian" that was listed in the book, I took my key card to the machine and touch-padded in my choices. I returned the card to the polling person, thanked her, bumped into a student entering the building as I was exiting, and escaped to the warm embrace of the Cineville Market, its strong coffee and pesto grilled cheese sandwiches acting as a bulwark against the cold.

In the end-- after months of coverage, obsessive readings of blogs, postings on my own blog, blog comments exchanges, fliers in the mailbox, robocalls from candidates, and several Facebook admonitions from Kal Penn to come out to Obama rallies in the area-- it all felt strangely anti-climactic. Don't get me wrong-- I love Primary Day, I get a geeky, Sorkinesque thrill in voting, and I'm happy with the choices I made. But whether it was the rain, or the wondering if Diebold would actually count my vote, or just campaign coverage fatigue, it didn't have quite the "wow!" power that I hoped it might have. For all my ambivalence about religion, I do enjoy rituals and traditions, that sense of belonging to a community and a continuum, not so much centered on belief, but on a process through which we decide and work out what we believe. "Democracy belongs to those who show up," the saying goes, so maybe it's good that this ritual ends up feeling so everyday, so mundane. It's a nice reminder that politics lives, not in Straight Talkers or Mission Accomplished or even Yes We Can, but in the simple act of taking part, even on a rainy wet Primary Day.


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