The Thrill of the Vote


This post first ran on election day in 2008. My feelings on the subject haven’t changed:

It’s election day in Chicago. I just walked home from voting for a new mayor and a new alderman–and I miss my old neighborhood.

For ten years I lived in South Shore: a white graduate student/small business owner/writer in a neighborhood dominated by the African-American middle class. My neighbors were police officers, schoolteachers, fire fighters, electricians, and social workers. We didn’t have much in common most of the year–except on election day.

As far as I’m concerned, voting is thrilling. My South Shore neighbors agreed. Voting in South Shore felt like a small town Fourth of July picnic. Like Mardi Gras. Like Christmas Eve when you’re five-years-old and still believe in Santa Claus. No matter what time of day I went to vote, my polling place was packed. Voters and election judges greeted each other–and me–with hugs, high fives, and “good to see you here, honey”. First time voters proudly announced themselves. Elderly voters told stories about their first election. People made sure they got their election receipts; some pinned them to their coats like a badge of honor. An older gentleman sat next to the door and said “Thank you for exercising your right to vote” as each voter left. The correct response was “It’s a privilege.”

Except for occasional confusion when the machine that takes the ballots jams, my current polling place is low key. Election judges are friendly and polite, but hugs are not issued with your ballot. When the young woman manning the machine handed me my receipt, she told me to have a good day. I said “It’s always a good day when you get to vote.” In South Shore, that would have gotten me an “Amen.” In politically active, politically correct Hyde Park, it got me an eye-blinking look of surprise and a hesitant smile.

I started home, thinking maybe I was the only one in the neighborhood whose pulse beat faster on election day. A block from the polls I ran into a young man walking with a small boy, no more than six years old. The little boy stopped me, with a grin so big that he looked like a smile wearing a wooly hat.

“Did you vote yet?” he asked. “My dad is taking me to teach me how to vote.”

“It’s a privilege,” I said.

He gave me the highest five he could manage.

* * *

So tell me, did you exercise your right to vote today?


  1. Mr. Toler on November 5, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Of course! No hugs but a lot of smiling going on.

  2. Mary McFarland on November 5, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Pamela, enjoyable description of your voting experience! I live in rural America, and the little town that hosts our voting efforts is located in the grade school I attended way back when. We know each other, I and my neighbors. For the most part, we’re friends, but on election day, we’re all higher than the new power lines that have taken an easement through our timber woods. It’s our chance to catch up with news and goings on in our community. I never miss my chance to put on lipstick and dress up, despite the fact my jeans are tighter nowadays and my hips are more rounded. The old guys, who used to chase me in fifth grade, still get a twinkle in their eyes when they see me, and they still tell me I’m “purty” as a speckled pup. But I don’t go for any of this: I go because of the women who fought hard so I could casually walk into that old schoolhouse–now the community center–and vote. It’s in their honor, in their memory, and I always leave feeling like I’ve quieted their ghosts, at least until next time.

    • pamela on November 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm

      Mary: Love it!

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