Today was the last day of early voting in Nevada so I went down to my local Obama field office to volunteer to drive voters to the polls. I thought there would be a big rush to vote early on this last day, and so did the folks at the field office, but in the end I just got one assignment — a young man named Scott who lives in a modest apartment complex about fifteen minutes from my house. He'd been contacted by an Obama volunteer named Laura who also lives in the complex. Scott doesn't have a phone so I rendezvous-ed with Laura and she brought Scott out to my car.
Scott had a two-hour window for voting — I picked him up at noon and he had to be back at 2 o'clock to look after his kids when his wife went off to work. I got a feeling that things weren't going too well for Scott in Las Vegas, economically speaking. He mentioned that he was thinking of moving to North Carolina, because he'd heard the job opportunities were better there. He was excited about Obama but took the rest of the ballot just as seriously. He'd already been to a polling place to get a sample ballot so he could study it. He had with him a hand-written list of the candidates he wanted to vote for for local offices.
He was pleasantly surprised when I offered him some Gatorade from a cooler in the back of The Ghost — I wanted to be prepared just in case people had to wait for a long time in lines outdoors. “You've got ice, too,” he said. “We should go fishing after this!” We talked about how much we loved fishing.
His local polling place was located in the Sears Court of the Meadows Mall — seen above without the election machinery in place. (Nevada is way ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to making voting convenient — there are early voting stations in supermarkets as well.) There looked to be about fifty voting machines in the center of the court, with a long line of people waiting to use them. When we joined the back of the line an election board volunteer told us the wait would be about 13 minutes — and that's almost exactly how long it was.
Scott took a while at his machine, checking his list. Watching the crowd of voters while I waited for him I got very emotional. Here were a bunch of regular folks in a mall choosing the next leader of the free world. They all looked incredibly proud, almost beatific, as they handed off their election cards at the end of the process and received their sticker saying “I Voted”. For one moment each of them had stood in absolute equality with every other American citizen — their opinion absolutely equal to the opinion of anyone else.
You can try to appreciate the process of democracy intellectually and philosophically, but you can't get close to the miracle of it until you see it in action like this, when a phrase like “the blessings of freedom” suddenly comes alive and grips the heart.
When I dropped Scott off at his home afterwards we shook hands warmly. “Let's hope we'll be partying on Wednesday,” he said. I held up crossed fingers and he laughed. He was back in plenty of time to look after the kids and I'd helped a fellow citizen have his say in one of the most important elections in American history.
Earlier we'd been talking about how amazing the Obama organization was. “It's like we're all pulling together on this,” he said — a thirty-something black man from New Jersey talking to a fifty-something white man from North Carolina, thrown together by chance and hope at a momentous time in a shopping mall in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
America . . . it's just too much, just too cool.