On March 15 I woke up early, my head churning with eager yet uncertain thoughts about how the subsequent hours would unfold. Though I’m twenty years old, the North Carolina primary was the first time I had cast a vote in any governmental election. Eager to don my elliptic “I Voted” sticker, the participation award of our democracy, I made my way out the door at 7:30 AM.
The day before, I had agreed to give a man from the Industries for the Blind a ride to his polling location so he could make his voice heard as well. I had never met a blind person before, but my lust for a high-functioning and involved democracy quieted any hesitations I had about my ability to be of any assistance to this man. So, I pulled up to the curb at the IFB and called John to let him know that I was outside waiting for him. “When you walk out I’ll be towards the middle of the building in a green Jee-.” I cut myself off. That information was entirely useless to John. He laughed quietly on the phone, acknowledging my mistake, and remarked that he’d be out in a just a second. Having made the first operational adjustment to my morning, I helped John into the car and introduced myself.
On the way to his polling location, we made conversation about who the other was voting for, which politics podcasts we enjoyed listening to, avoiding at all costs discussion of he-who-must-not-be-named, the GOP’s Lord Voldemort, Donald Trump (yes, I know I just said his name, but writing requires sacrifices from time-to-time). Anyway, John and I finally arrive at his polling place, no more than three minutes away from the IFB. Having been trained by Democracy North Carolina to notify the hotline 1-800-OUR-VOTE of any irregularities at polling locations, I scoured the parking lot for evidence curbside voting: a mandatory feature at N.C. polling locations that allows the handicapped or otherwise impaired to vote from their vehicle. “CURBSIDE VOTING” read a bright red sign at the opposite end of the pavement. Though happy to see that the polling location was within regulation, I felt like Batman after a plunge in the Gotham City crime rate: a vigilante with no outlaws to bring to justice.
John didn’t want to vote curbside so I tentatively escorted him inside, trying to find a balance between offering just enough assistance and offering too much, fearing that I’d somehow insult his autonomy and end up on the side of the road having been beaten senseless by a guide-cane. That was a joke. In all seriousness, John was one of the most kind-hearted and gracious people that I’ve ever met and I was lucky to get to know him that morning.
Once the poll monitors handed John his ballot, their supervisor―her unquestionable authority made clear by her bright yellow vest―patronizingly asked me whether or not I was going to help John fill out his ballot. WOAH! It hit me. I hadn’t even considered it before that point, not even on my way to the polling location with John sitting right beside me. It would literally be impossible for John to fill out his ballot on his own. I stood there, stupefied, expecting they at least had one in braille on which John could cast his vote, but they didn’t. A process that’s supposed to be extremely private and intimate immediately became a shared experience.
“Presidential preference,” I whispered to John as we huddled around his ballot at a small table in the middle of the polling location, “you may choose one.” I’m not going to tell you who he voted for; it felt like my knowing in whom he placed his trust was already one person too many. That said, though, John would likely be remiss at my refraining to share that information because he was an ardently proud supporter of his candidate. I proceeded to list offices and names from the ballot, John proceeded to indicate for which candidate he wanted to cast a vote. “That’s it,” I said once the ballot had been completely filled out. “That’s it?” John asked.
We made our way back to the car and I dropped off my new friend at his place of work.
A few minutes later, I went to cast my vote. It seemed utterly simple compared to the process that I went through with John. It would have been impossible for John to vote without assistance, and though I recognize our world isn’t exactly the most fair or forgiving place, my experience on the morning of the North Carolina primary made that fact more evident to me.
Nick Boney 3/27/16