Early voting is proceeding at record rates in Atlanta, Georgia. After being intimidated by the long lines at voting places such as the Fulton County main and district offices, I decided to be brave and stick it out this morning. After all, advance voting was now available at additional sites, including the Adamsville Recreation Center about 5 minutes from my home in Southwest Atlanta.
Early voting in person began here on September 22 at centralized sites such as the county Government Offices, and advanced voting (essentially the same as early voting, but with additional sites available) began Monday October 27 and lasts through today, Halloween.
I arrived at the Adamsville Recreation Center at 11am to a full parking lot. The procedure was very well organized with poll workers in bright fluorescent jackets pointing the way to the large gym where the action was.
The first stop was at a table where I was given a number (207) and asked to fill out a form with the all relevant spaces clearly highlighted for ease. I was shocked to see the bleachers jammed packed with people waiting ahead of me. There was even a refreshment stand with everything from chops and Danish, to bottled water and hot chocolate for sale. It was going to be a long day.
I took the opportunity to speak with Mattie Wallace, 82 years old, being pushed in a wheelchair by her grand daughter Janice Taylor. Mattie said she had a challenging 2007 and she is convinced God gave her the grace to live another year so she could see a black man have a real shot of being elected President. She encouraged and chided Janice every time she expressed exasperation at the slow moving line.
Manuel Munoz said this was his first time voting. As a naturalized citizen from Columbia he felt proud and amazed at the orderly democratic -- and bloodless -- process by which power is transferred in this country. His girlfriend beamed and said Manuel was the one who insisted that they vote early and, although she wanted to sleep in, she was glad he insisted.
As numbers were called "670 to 700" it seemed the crowd was growing instead of dwindling because people kept coming in droves, even as some voted and left. School teacher Tamara Crumm tried to keep her son Brandon occupied as he alternately played, cried, slept and appeared totally bored. "It's important for him to be here today", she said. "When he is older, I want to remind him he was with me as I voted for Barack Obama for President. This is history!"
The menu at the lunch table expanded to include pizza, hot dogs and sandwiches. Some Good Samaritan walked around handing out Gatorade and Oreos free of charge. Everyone was in a good mood and very orderly. It was a family picnic almost. The clock read noon.
They were up to "1000" and then "1-50" by 1pm and I felt buoyed knowing it was getting closer to my number. Most volunteered that they were voting for Barack Obama and were taking advantage of advanced voting because it was such a historic, pivotal election, they were very excited and energized, and because they dreaded the long lines on Election Day.
Others said they feared on November 4 machines would malfunction causing extended delays and mass confusion. Still others said they had heard of concerted efforts to remove some people from the rolls and they wanted to know about and resolve any problems concerning their own names on the voter rolls before Election Day.
A minority said they were Independent and one woman said she was still wrestling with whom to vote for. She felt an obligation to vote for Obama but thought McCain more exemplified her traditional Christian values. She said she was constantly praying even as we talked, and would let God tell her whom to vote for as she stood in front of the machine.
"Numbers 200 to 230" echoed from the bullhorn and I virtually ran up the steps to have my ID checked and my form initialed by the polling clerk. I watched the orderly line snake its way up the corridor as poll workers encouraged us we were almost done and offered more refreshments.
One free can of Gatorade and a few minutes later and I was facing another clerk checking my demographics on the computer. At the next table over they took my form and created a credit card type device to be used in the Diebold voting machine.
Inserted into the machine, the bright yellow card activated the screen and the 12 page ballot popped up on the touch screen. I carefully made my vote for President, then Senator, then prodded through pages of judges and propositions (most of which I had no idea about).
I finally reviewed my ballot one more time then pushed the green pad "Cast Ballot". It was 2:00pm exactly.
Tamara and Brandon were just entering the voting room as I left.