An inside look at the voter’s experience – Part 1

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Heather McVey, of Mountlake Terrace, waits in the newly added “line” at Key Arena.

This is the first piece in a series of three parts by Mountlake Terrace resident Michelle L. Hankes on her experiences as a voter throughout the years and becoming more engaged in politics. The next part will be published Thursday.

The year was 1994 and I had recently turned 18. I stood in line, my voter’s registration newly-printed and in hand. People were chatting and waiting, letting the sun shine down on us and the wind whip through our hair and jackets. It was fall in central Illinois and we didn’t care if it was cold out or not. We were ready to vote. It was our civic duty and this would be my first chance to drop that paper ballot in the waiting slot. The polling place was packed, the lines were long and we all waited patiently for a chance to stand inside a tiny booth, pull that infamous curtain and cast our vote for the next president.

How far we’ve come.

Ballots are still cast, but now, from the privacy and convenience of our own homes. Absentee voting has increased the number of votes cast in Washington State (where I have called home for nearly twenty years), but voter turnout is still relatively low for most elections with one exception: presidential elections.

And this one sure is primed.

People from many different walks are excited, engaged, outraged and impassioned by what’s being said, what might be said, what might happen and who might do what–and the media is fueling the fire. So, I asked myself, how can I be more involved in this process and really understand more about what’s happening and how it happens? Where should I even start? I’ve been an active voter for the past few decades, paying attention to debates and critics, policy and procedure, always trying to make the best decision.

I’m no politician, nor was I a political science major. I’m not sure I even like politics that much. But, the importance of voting and participating still resonates deeply.

Like most Americans, I have several friends who read everything, delve deeply, work the campaigns and research everything. However, I am like most of the other Americans —- I read the leaflets, watch some of the debates, learn what I can, cast my vote, mail it in/drop it off, then go about my day and hope for the best. But, this election has left me intrigued and wanting to know more. So, my first stop on my own personal political revolution was to attend a rally and join in on my local caucus, something I’ve never done before.

I’m on a mission, a personal political revolution to be more involved and try some new things. My opportunity arose. A friend posted on Facebook about an upcoming rally and it happened to be someone I was interested in knowing more about. I was a little wary, but intrigued nonetheless. Would there be protesters? Would there be tomato-slingers? I was willing to find out.

The day finally arrived, the coordination set up and off I went with a few friends. We quickly scooted downtown with plans to be in line two hours before the doors opened. We found some free street parking, walked a few blocks to the Seattle Center, then hunted down the ever-growing line that was slowly starting to creep towards the EMP.

Seattle blessed us with some sprinkly rain, but most of the line dwellers were in good spirits, excited for various reasons. My excitement was stemming from my childhood and teen years — how many lines have I stood in for concert tickets? This kind of felt the same. Stand in line and get a great reward at the end – but this time, I had no idea what the reward would be. Would it be some canned speech? Ten minutes on stage with basic thoughts that really didn’t offer me much insight into the person speaking them? I wasn’t sure what to be prepared for.

We stood in line, moving every now and again, with volunteers walking up and down along the line’s edges asking if we’d signed up for our caucus, needed voter registration information or wanted to sign various petitions. And, then a volunteer gave us a break.

“If you go around to the west side of the arena, the line is shorter!”

A shorter line! Yes, please! We flipped a coin, bolted for the opposite side of the Seattle Center, then curved and wound our way into the newly-added entrance. At first glance, the line did appear shorter. Except, it wasn’t really a line. It was more of a blob of warm people. A clear line wasn’t created, so people just stood huddled together on the sidewalk and down the stairs to the entrance. Staff and volunteers had created a wide-gapped opening for plenty of people to fit, but it wasn’t really a line. Which seemed fine, at first.

We waited.

And we waited.

Then, we moved forward. About two steps.

We continued to wait.

Each time there was a bit of movement forward, the mob filled in any gaps, so we just got closer and closer to one another, not really moving anywhere. Questions were raised about the doors actually being open, but we could finally see movement into the doors of the arena. We were told security was extremely tight and moving as fast as they could. Both local law enforcement and the Secret Service were on-hand to examine belongings and check for hidden items. We began to question our decision to leave the original line.

All the while, as I stood in the rain hugging my throng of neighbors, I noticed something: no one was pushing, no one was upset or angry, and no one seemed all that unhappy to be in that particular mob of people. There were no protesters anywhere on site that we could see and people placidly stood together in the rain waiting for an opportunity to get inside to hear what was going to be shared. Someone told a few jokes, a few people played music for others to hear from their phone’s speaker, and mostly, we just chatted with one another about what we liked and didn’t like about the politics in this election. But, even that was done with humor and grace. We were just a bunch of people hanging out — in a very tight-knit “line.”

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Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders talks to the crowd outside Key Arena.

As we watched the hours tick by and the program getting ready to begin, after four hours and a total movement of about ten feet, we opted to abandon hope of getting in and go watch it on the big screen that was set up in front of the International Fountain. We walked the distance back around and found a place amongst the screen-watching throng. A couple of friends inside the arena sent us photos, so we knew it was close to full. Yet, so many, many more were standing out in the rain waiting for the big screen to light up.

That’s when someone started running. Where were they running to? And why? Then, others followed. Not wanting to be that one who runs after someone just to see what they are running towards, we ambled slowly in the direction they ran, trying to see why. Then, we could hear the candidate talking, but no image on the big screen. Technical difficulties? Poor camera work? And, why were people still running?

Very few had expected what happened. Amongst the chaos and confusion, and mind-blowing, grueling schedule, this particular political hopeful stood out in the rain and gave a shortened 15-, maybe 20-minute variation of the prepared speech to all the folks who couldn’t make it inside. Over 10,000 inside and thousands still wanting to get in.

It was worth the wait. Regardless of the poor — and probably unsafe — “line” that was created at the additional entrance to the arena, the excitement about the potential regarding what was being said and the flavor in which it all happened still remained savory. I was impressed with those who supported this candidate, most of all. No rabble-rousing, no hullaballoo, no nonsense. Just people wanting to find a way to create change, peacefully and with love. We may have walked away wet, but we glistened with hope.

–Story and photos by Michelle L. Hankes

Michelle L. Hankes is a local writer, reader and avid fan of all things joyful. She has authored three books about nature, metaphysics, and spirituality and has written articles and poetry for several publications. By grace and funny circumstances, she has lived happily in pretty and peaceful Mountlake Terrace for nearly two decades. For more information, visit www.MichelleHankes.com.

  1. Thanks for your inspiring account of your political engagement, Michelle. If only more of our citizens would devote even a fraction of their time and energy to political, environmental and social issues as they do to the Seahawks and similar indulgences, we could indeed transform our world.

  2. While I applaud everyone who votes in the Presidential election, it is not enough. You also need to remember to vote in every election.

    As we have seen over the past two terms of the current President, only so much power is held by that office. Unless the President uses an Executive Order, they still need to work with Congress to get things done. So, when you have a President that you voted for go against a Congress that you did not bother to vote on, things do not go forward.

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