11 January 2008

The Price Of Freedom

Normally I don't have much bad to say about my adopted borough of Brooklyn, but today I just might make an exception.

It was the last day to register to vote for anyone who wants to take part in next month's "Super Tuesday" primary, and while I still don't know who I'm going to vote for - and while I really don't expect that my candidate, should I ever decide on one, is going to win or lose by one vote - I wanted to make sure I wouldn't be shut out of the process.

In California, registering to vote was ridiculously easy. On any given day you'd find people in downtown Berkeley offering to sign you up just so in return they could collect your signature on one or more of the petitions they were circulating. In Brooklyn, not so much.

Not that it's that difficult. For instance, you can register to vote at the same time you're applying for or renewing your driver's license, and that's what I did when I got my New York license back in mid-October.

Or thought I did. On the application it said something like, "This will be forwarded to your local Board of Elections. If you haven't received your voter registration card within x number of days, contact them." Well, x number of days had long passed and no voter reg card. Just to be safe, I downloaded another application and mailed it in, adding a note saying, "This is just in case you didn't get my first registration. I'm not trying to register twice. Honest."

Oh, did I forget to tell you that I first did as I'd been instructed, contacted my local Board of Election. Er, tried to contact them. Dial their phone number, the recording tells you to go to their website; go to their website and it gives you their phone number. But getting someone to answer that phone... Well, after a week or two of trying, I finally did get a human who told me that keeping track of voter registration wasn't here department.

"But, this is the Board of Elections, isn't it? The one where they keep track of voter registration?"

"Yeah, but you gotta call the automated number, that's how you find out if you're registered."

Okay, fine, I can deal with automated numbers. As a rule. This one, after a long series of messages, tells me to key in my ZIP code, surname, date of birth, etc., and after a pause, tells me, "We have no data matching your entry, please try again." A couple more episodes of this and I finally find an entry that gets me a different response: "If you have a rotary telephone or can not find the information you are looking for, an operator will assist you."

So I'm transferred again, the phone rings, and someone picks up almost immediately. At last, I think. Oh, wait, it's a recording: "This is the Brooklyn Board of Elections. No operators are available to answer your call today. Try another time, or go to our website, www.etc..."

So it was that I found myself bumbling around downtown Brooklyn this afternoon in the closest thing to a monsoon with hurricane-ish overtones that you're likely to encounter in New York City in mid-January. I should note, especially for my Northern California readers, that it's been warmer here than in San Francisco nearly all week, and on at least one day, even warmer than LA.

It was still mild today, but the rain, and the blocked gutters turning streets into rivers, and the speeding cars sending hydroplane-sized wakes across the sidewalks more than made up for it. Barely able to see in the downpour, I took a wrong turn and walked several blocks east instead of west. By the time I'd discovered my mistake, my shoes were so full of water that I was feeling like one of those cartoon characters who takes them off to empty them and sees fish flopping out onto the pavement.

Although (fortunately) I had an umbrella, the lower half of my jeans was so soaked that they were sagging like gangsta pants, and when I finally found Borough Hall, I was confronted by an airport-style metal detector and X-ray machine, where I was required to empty my pockets, etc. My money had gotten so wet that it nearly disintegrated in my hands.

Through security, I checked the directory: Board of Elections, 4th Floor. I went there. Completely empty. Back downstairs to ask the guard. "Oh, them? They moved down the street. That way."

Yes, I finally found the Board of Elections, about two hours after I started out from North Brooklyn. And when I did get there, there were more clerks than customers, and they were all eager to help. She took my info, did a quick computer check, and said, "Oh yeah, you registered. You'll get a card in the mail."

She gave me a printout showing that my original registration had been processed back in November. I thanked her and headed back out into the now mostly-subsided storm, my fury toward the inefficiency of the Brooklyn Board of Elections and the entire administration of Kings County also largely spent. Was I nuts, I wondered? Did voting matter that much to me? Hell, there've been times when I just plain skipped elections because I didn't like the choice of candidates.

But then I calmed down by remembering, cheesy as it may sound, what other people have gone through for the right to vote, and suddenly my soaking wet socks and the water dripping from my pantlegs seemed rather trivial. Now watch me sleep in and totally forget all about voting when the election actually comes around.

1 comment:

erika said...

Aw. Are you saying NY isn't perfect?