2009 – My Voting Experience April 23, 2009Posted by baldricman in General, News.
Tags: democracy, election, iec, south africa, vote, voting
Well yesterday, April 22nd, our 4th democratic elections took place around the country. Along with most of the roughly 23 million registered voters, wifey and I went along to our voting station around the corner to make our mark.
So today, I thought I’d share just a little of our experience of the day, and a few of our impressions of the process and people.
Initially we’d considered arriving early at the station, to “get it over with”, but I had a hunch that voting over lunch time might be quieter (I’m sure 23 million other geniuses in South Africa also had similar little theories, most of which worked equally well…) So we ended up arriving at around 1pm or so, and joined the back of the queue which, all in all, didn’t seem too long. The vibe seemed pretty relaxed and quiet.We had been in the queue not 5 minutes before a man came striding past us down the line, muttering and flapping his arm in the air. “This does not bode well” I remember thinking to myself. As he passed us he “helpfully” informed us all that it was “useless” and a “waste of time”, as the station had just run out of ballot papers. Within seconds, my wife and I began to see more and more people leaving their places in the (stagnant) queue, all of them with the same peeved expression, irritable arm-flapping, and inventive and helpful cursing and complaining, to (presumably) go home. (My favourite was the woman who stormed past us, venemously spitting out “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” over and over again. I had to turn away to hide my grin at this point, as I’m sure she would have reacted less than favourably had she noticed.)
Now I must just say that I agree that a voting station running out of ballot papers is exceptionally short-sighted, and worthy of a certain amount of ridicule, but I will ALSO say that, well, people make mistakes, and at the end of the day, only those people who left the queue at the first sign of trouble, lost out. The rest of us benefitted in fact from a faster moving queue for a few minutes :). Oh, and the ballot papers arrived at most 5 minutes after those people climbed back into their luxury cars and went home to enjoy the rest of their “holiday”.
So after the excitement, we settled in to the long wait. The queue dragged forward very, very slowly, for quite some time. I liken it to hiking, when you’re buggered: just as you near the top of the hill (or near a bend in the queue), you suddenly see the next hill behind it, which is higher (the queue snakes around another corner you were hitherto unaware of).
One of the reasons the queue was going so slowly was that the IEC volunteers were ushering the elderly to the front of the queue. I was very impressed with their helpfulness and thoughtfulness in this regard, but I have to say that a certain proportion of these people were quite borderline on the “I can’t stand in a queue for long” scale. I also believe that there was some sort of traditional healing going on in the 3rd booth, because a lot of the elderly invalids had an unmistakeable increase in mobility immediately after they had voted, and practically skipped their way back down the line, smiling innocently at us the whole way. Wrinkly old sods.
But I’m not really complaining. Heck, I’ve tackled the Koeberg Interchange. I know about people jumping the queue while I wait like a silly ass… At least these voters kinda deserve that little helping hand.
My wife had a different theory on the “goings-on” (as she puts it) inside the hall where we voted: she started noticing that there seemed to be fewer people coming out of the station, than there were going in. We began to fear the worst, thinking it was some sort of culling station, or perhaps there were, you know, penalties, if you spoilt your ballot, or didn’t present your thumb for inking quick enough. But if this was the case (and her observations were hard to ignore, I have to admit), we obviously passed the test, and came out looking more or less the same.
I guess one of the most interesting things for me was that, during the long wait (1 hour and 20 minutes in total), we got a rare glimpse into the general demographic of our neighbourhood. Seriously, when else do you get to take a gander at your neighbours? (You know, those people that live next door to you, in the same street, on the next block, who’s names you don’t know, that you’ve never met? Those people to whom you give an awkward and discrete wave or smile only if you’re sure they’ve already seen you and recognised you, and therefore not waving or smiling is slightly more awkward? Yeah, you know the ones).
And although I didn’t really speak to many people at all, it was nice, in a simple way, just doing something important, having a common purpose, with those who live near to me and contribute to my environment (for better or worse).
I think that perhaps, after all, there is something to those romantic notions of queueing up to vote in your country’s elections. And a part of me is just a little glad it took a slightly longer than was comfortable.