Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Look On a Man's Face

A recent article suggested that there might be irregularities in the upcoming elections. Let's hope not.

Something happened to me years that reminded me once and for all about the value of free and fair elections.

Some friends had talked me into becoming a poll worker. You had to get up early and be ready to open the polls at 7:00 AM. The polls closed at 7:00 PM, after which we would complete some paperwork and deliver the ballots to the election headquarters downtown. It made for a long day. Most of the other poll workers were retired people. Some of their stories were amusing. Still, after a few years I’d had enough and decided that the presidential election 1992 would be my last. Then something happened that changed my mind.

A friend of mine, who had managed to leave Cuba with some of his family a few years before (despues, despues de Mariel, he would assert–he was not one of that bunch), came in to vote, along with his mother. Both were naturalized citizens. His brother, a radiologist who had somehow been allowed to come from Cuba to visit his family in Florida for a short time, was with them. He waited outside while the others went in to vote. I tried chatting with him in my high school Spanish. It went something like this:

“Well, today we’re choosing a president.”
“Yeah, sure you are.”
“So, by tonight we should know who it’s going to be.”
“Yeah, sure. Of course that’s not really what is going on here.”
“Sure it is. You watch TV tonight, and you’ll find out which way it went.”
“But there are no guns. No police.”
“Uh, well, there were a couple of police officers here earlier, but after they vote they have to leave just like anybody else.”

I can’t really describe the look that came over his face as he realized that, yes, we were actually choosing the next president of the United States right then and there, and that his brother and his mom were actually part of that process. I suppose “amazed” might be a place to start, but it can’t come close to convey the way he looked.

After that I decided that the long day at the polls was a minor price to pay to take a small part in a critical process, which most Americans take for granted. Some of us don’t even exercise a basic right that most of our fellow travelers on this planet can only dream of, a lesson I learned from the look on a man’s face.

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