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What 165 Minutes At My Local Polling Place Taught Me

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

A Story From Rural, South-Central Pennsylvania

Okay, so we all know voting in-person on election day shouldn't take longer than the longest Star Wars movie. The time I spent in line, waiting? Two hours and 45 minutes.

I mean, hello.

Long lines on Election Day in South-Central Pennsylvania

The good news, even as the votes are being counted?

We can learn from this.

In the past few days, in what feels like weeks, really, I’ve been quietly reflecting, thinking, learning. All while trying like heck to avoid the news, the opinions, the harsh and contradictive voices on the screen.

And here is what I know. In the almost three hours I spent standing, waiting, watching, chatting, making phone calls to rearrange my day, and trying my darndest to keep warm, there are things I want to remember.

My neighbors care. You guys, the turnout. The freaking turnout. People showed up. With a pep in their step and a smile under their mask, people came to cast their vote, to do their civic duty.

Kindness abounds. After the initial shock of finding a parking spot - yes, the cornfield cattycorner to the municipal building - and then finding the right line, I settled in for the long wait. And I saw kindness everywhere I looked. It was in the warm greetings and the first awkward words as new friendships formed.

A few examples. A young man carrying the biggest thermos of coffee I’d ever seen, offering folks a top off or a refill or a brand new cup. He had cups in his pocket, gloves on his hands, and a gallon - a gallon! - of liquid creamer. A welcomed act of kindness.

The older gentleman in front of me displayed the most spritely act I saw all day. He popped out of line and stepped on an “I voted” sticker that was tumbling through the parking lot. He bent over, picked it up, and gave it back to its rightful owner. He got a laugh when he told her he wished he had one, too. She earned that sticker.

And a portable restroom. Yes, in small-town Pennsylvania, a porta-potty was an act of kindness, of compassion. It was delivered on a flatbed about an hour and a half into my wait. And from what I gathered, it was orchestrated by locals.

You guys, the neighborly spirit is alive and well here in my small town.

Encouragement still goes a long way. The unsung hero of it all are the volunteers. They are my absolute favorite part of the voting experience. Aside from the act of voting itself. I may be a bit biased, my paternal grandmother, God rest her soul, volunteered at the polls. She, and they, will always have a special place in my heart. Looking them in the eyes and thanking them for their service, sharing a bit of encouragement, it was my favorite part.

And as a young mama exited the building with two little ones in tow, one still in a stroller, one tottering beside her holding on to her coat, I shared with her a simple “Good job, mama.” She paused for a moment, almost confused. And then gave me a look that only us mamas have, a glance, really, a silent, exhaustion-filled thank you. For being seen. For being appreciated.

Even in the whirlwind of a week since casting my ballot, I’ve sent a few notes of encouragement to those in my life who have influenced my thinking, my knowing. Passionate men and women, activists, with different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities. I’ve checked in on them and thanked them. If you haven’t done this yet, try it. Gosh, it goes a long way.

Love and connection are treasured. As we waited, all 300+ of us, standing in four haphazard lines, some moving faster than others, there was a general feeling of love. Love of neighbors and of country. Love of self and of connection. More treasured than ever in this year of pandemic, of isolation, of great change.

About an hour in, standing there, talking to the two gentlemen in front of me - guys of different generations, different backgrounds, we paused mid-sentence as we spotted an eagle, magnificent, majestic, proud, soaring above us. Others took notice, too. Some pointed, some gasped. Little ones squealed. The crowd grew silent, everyone pausing conversations or looking up from their screens. We watched. In awe. A moment later, as the parking lot was still silent, caught up in it all, another eagle came into view. So bold. So grand. The pair soared high above us. And collectively, as if on cue, we cheered.

It was a moment full of pride. Of hope.

With not one mention of Trump. Or Biden. Or politics. Or parties.

It was a reminder that we are all human. And that we are blessed - really freaking blessed - to live in this community, in this country. Even during these crazy times.


A bit about me. I’m Katie, a privileged middle-class white woman. Yep, I said it. The fact that I could unexpectedly stand in line for the better part of 3 hours speaks for itself. I know that others could not, and did not. It’s unacceptable. We need to do better.

I also acknowledge that my neck of the woods is different than your neck of the woods. That your experience may have been radically different than mine.

And that you may be anxious. You may feel as though your identity is being questioned, or worse, attacked. I want you to know that I see you. And although I will never understand how you are feeling, I will stand with you. And hold space for you.

These last four years changed me. Changed me.

These next four years, they will change me, too. They will change all of us.

My mantra through it all?

Be the light.

If you find yourself feeling all the feels this morning, this week, please take care of yourself. Reach out. Know that you are seen. And heard. And even in these crazy times, especially in these crazy times, continue forward on your heart-centered journey.

My request to you, no matter the outcome: be a good human. This week, in the coming months, for the rest of our lives. Let’s be good humans.

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