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You’re Not Here

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By Stacey Abrams, Founder and Chair of Fair Fight Action

He parks the car in the spot marked in bright blue, a welcome sight after making his way in rush hour traffic back from a futile visit to the VA hospital then to his church. With practiced motions, he maneuvers his walker. The tennis balls attached to the bottom help keep the contraption stable as he levers out and onto his feet.

A veteran of the wars for Civil Rights and Vietnam, Elijah cannot quite recall which stint robbed him fully of the use of his right leg. There was the bullet fragment from an enemy soldier’s rifle, or the baton wielded by an angry sheriff as he attempted to cast his first vote upon honorable discharge. He rarely speaks of either, except as a reminder to his children of why he insists on going to the polls rather than mailing in his ballot.

He hobbles forward to join the line that wraps around the building and down into the church basement. After more than two hours, he wearily takes his seat at the first table, and fills out the form in a steady hand. Now to the next table, where he waits to be checked in. The poll worker, a young woman he doesn’t recognize, shows a similar lack of acknowledgement. She squints at her computer. “I’m sorry, Mr. Foster, but you’re at the wrong place.”

“I’ve voted here for the last twenty years, miss. I’m exactly where I should be.”

“Your name isn’t on the rolls,” she insists, aware of the line that remains behind him. “You need to go across town.”

“Young lady, the polls closed at 7 pm. It’s now 8:28 pm. And I don’t vote anywhere but here.”

“Then I don’t think you get to vote today.”

Alerted by the angry murmurs around him, a manager approaches. She peers at the screen and echoes the worker’s assessment. “I’m sorry, sir. The computer says you’ve been assigned to another precinct.”

His neighbor in line starts to interject, but Elijah quiets her with a look. “I’ve never missed an election since 1966. Not one. I’ve lived in the same house since 1968. I attend this church, and I serve on the deacon board. This is where I vote. And I’m here to get rid of that useless whelp who keeps voting against Medicaid Expansion. I need a state representative who actually represents me.”

“I know who you are, Mr. Foster. But the computer says you moved.”

“I haven’t. I’m standing right here.” And with his arms folded, walker forgotten, he adds, “And I’m not going anywhere.”

The manager — aware of the line that continues to huddle in the fitful rain, frustrated by the perfect storm of broken machines, missing cords, poorly trained staff and faulty data — holds back her sigh of frustration. She’s only been on the job since early voting started — a veteran of 21 days. “Mr. Foster, I’m sorry. All I can do is give you a provisional ballot. It’s out of my hands.”

He takes the paper, knowing it’s wrong, but impotent to fix the problem that night. As he votes for change, he can only pray his choices count. For once.