November 18, 2018

Voting While Blind


I hadn’t voted—or even been registered to vote—since 1984. My own cynical nihilism regarding the American electoral process and politics as a whole left me wanting nothing to do with any of it, all that blinkered stupidity and ugliness, all those people believing politics had the slightest thing to do with the way the world worked.

            But on the last day to register before the 2018 midterms, my wife finally convinced me it would be worthwhile, pointing out a couple of local incumbent assholes (one of whom had tried to gut the ADA) who deserved to be ousted. Yeah, I guess there were a few people I wanted to vote against for the sheer pleasure of voting against them. Even if voting was an impotent waste of my time, it would still feel good. What complicated matters was that, since voting for that last time in 1984, I’d gone blind. When it comes to civic matters, I’ve found, being blind causes nothing but trouble.

            The last time I showed up for jury duty at Brooklyn Supreme Court, I was told to sit off to the side, where, in order, a clerk, the woman who oversaw the jury pool, and two judges attempted to convince me to just go home and not worry about it. Although at the time I gave them a bunch of earnest-sounding claptrap about citizenship and justice, what it boiled down to was I needed that forty bucks and wasn’t going anywhere until I got it. In the end they let me stay, but took steps to make sure I would never, ever be chosen to sit on a jury.

            Now that I’d made the leap into the dark pit of being a registered voter, and after all the stories of voter suppression, which didn’t shock my nihilistic side at all, I began gearing up for a righteous fight when Election Day came around. No, I still wasn’t thrilled with the idea of being a willing participant in the grand facade, but now that I was there I was going to take it a little too seriously.

            The morning of the election, the American Foundation for the Blind released a statement saying that legally, polling sites should be accessible to the blind, though I could sense the serious doubt in the subtext—yes, they should be accessible, but don’t count on it. That same morning the Chicago branch of The Lighthouse tweeted that polling locations were supposed to be equipped with devices to help the blind vote independently. I had no idea what those devices might be, but again, the post seemed to imply it was something else I shouldn’t count on.

            Add to that reports of broken machines and long lines, and it was gearing up to be a nightmare. But I was ready.

            My wife and I headed out around eleven. It was raining hard that day. Our polling site was in a school three blocks away. I’d been there with her several times in the past, but as she went and voted, I’d waited by the elevators and snickered at those dupes who still believed in the myth of democracy. Now I was one of the dupes myself, fully expecting the right to vote to be yanked away from me.

            My muscles tightened and I reviewed my indignant arguments as we rode up the elevator. Deny me my rights as a citizen simply because I’m disabled, would they? It’s been one of the unstated and under-publicized agendas of the current administration since day one, and now I was ready to fight back. And afterward, I would write a scathing indictment of the whole stinking, corrupt fraud. Yes, it was going to be one hell of a story, I’ll tell you.

            The moment we stepped off the elevator, a woman waiting by the doors greeted us with a smile and shouted, “We’re fully equipped with accessibility devices!”

            I suddenly felt deflated. “Well, there goes my fucking story,” I whispered to my wife as we headed for the check-in desk. But devices or not, they could still throw me off the rolls for whatever reason they saw fit. No, this wasn’t over yet.

            The morning’s long lines had dissipated for the time being, so we approached the desk, where another unbearably pleasant woman asked my name, then began flipping through her lists.

            “Oh, here we go,” I thought. She’d seen that I was blind, so was just going to conveniently pretend my name wasn’t there to get rid of me. I’d even brought my voter registration confirmation letter along to wave about as they tried to drag me physically from the building.

            “Oh, there you are,” the woman said, having apparently spotted my name. “And your address?”

            I gave her that, too, and everything checked out. But I was waiting for that axe, when she told me that if I really wanted to vote I was on my own, that no one could help me. So it would be better if I just went home and forgot about it. And sure enough.

            “So will your wife help you fill out the ballot?”

            “What?” I about erupted in pre-emptive indignant fury the moment she began speaking. “I may be a cripple, but I am still a citizen of these United States of America, and if you think you’re about to deny me my rights as a citizen, why . . . ” Then I registered what she’d asked.

            “Oh. Um, yeah, that would be great, thanks.”

            She was so very nice and helpful and friendly, it was aggravating as hell. It only occurred to me as she was handing me my “I just voted—did YOU, you big loser?” sticker that she’d never even asked to see my ID.

            From that point on, through every stage we passed, every poll worker was insanely kind and helpful. Yeah, this Pulitzer prize winning story was turning out to be a complete bust, and I wanted to punch them all for it.

            As I stood behind Morgan while she filled out my ballot for me, I leaned over and whispered, “Okay, just for fun, you should yell, ’No! There’s no way in hell I’m going to let you vote for that jackass! I’ll tell you who you’re voting for!’”

            Needless to say, she didn’t.

            After inserting the finished ballots into the apparently quite functional reader, we headed for the elevators again. I wanted to turn around and shake my fist at all of them, all these friendly and helpful people, shouting “Damn you anyhow!”

            I realize this was only one shockingly enlightened polling site in south Brooklyn, that elsewhere in the country thousands of would-be voters were facing all the nightmares I’d envisioned and worse because they were disabled, or the wrong race, didn’t speak the language or held the wrong political ideology for that area. But hey, that’s what democracy’s all about. I just got lucky this time. From stories we’d heard about that same location the next morning, it seems it would have been a completely different story had I been Egyptian.

            Well, whatever. What matters is that both assholes I voted against lost. I still don’t for a second believe in the system, I consider it a fraud and a bad joke played on dullards, but if I had any part in destroying the lives of a couple of bureaucratic fuckers, I’ll accept that.


You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:

With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.