Cynthia Oi Under the Sun

Cynthia Oi

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

On the wonderful day
that we get our say

THE elderly man was but a speck when I first noticed him a couple of blocks away. He shuffled slowly down the pavement, pushing an aluminum walker in front of him, his running shoes gleaming white in a beam of sunshine that transiently managed to break through the overcast sky.

He moved down the hill, steering the chattering walker clear of a mess of crushed berries from a tree that branched over the rough sidewalk. By the time he reached the school cafeteria, a dozen or so people more fleet of foot had filled the line in front of him.

Taking his place, he eased a spotless square of handkerchief from the back pocket of his crisply ironed denim pants and dabbed perspiration from his forehead and neck, taking care to re-adjust the collar of his light blue polo shirt just so. Then the handkerchief was tucked back in, a wallet removed, ID card slid from its plastic sleeve. He raised his head, squared his shoulders. He was ready to vote. I felt like applauding.

I love election day. I get a rush from going to the polling place, where an atmosphere of anticipation decorates the drab hollow-tile public building even more than the red, white and blue canvas that lends privacy to the balloting booth.

No absentee, mail-in voting for me. Convenient as it may be, it's too antiseptic, too removed from the excitement of casting a ballot in person. After all the noise of the campaign, the months -- no, years -- of listening to politicians and pundits, I get my say.

There's also something wonderful about seeing the faces of fellow citizens. I recognize a few high school classmates, but there are the unfamiliar others. They are the people who live in the same valley, who likely drive along Palolo or 10th avenues, routinely dodging the same potholes I do, who buy milk and bread at the supermarket on Waialae and grind Surf-Pacs from Zippy's on the corner. They lose anonymity, clearly identified as neighbors when we show up to vote.

The arrival of the old fellow at the polling place yesterday seemed to soften the spell of impatience that had cloaked some of the people in line. The ones dressed for success in Reyn's shirts and smart skirts were obviously voting before heading to offices and keyboards. A couple checked their watches, murmuring assurances that since it was a state-city holiday, traffic wouldn't be as bad as usual.

A young, brown-haired woman with a craft-fair fimo plumeria tucked behind her ear was delighted to be voting for president. "First time," she said in a lilting voice. Given her ballot, she inspected names and amendment proposals, flipping the page front to back several times. When a booth opened, she smiled widely and resolutely marched in.

The guy in charge of the polling place did his best to herd people, but because the alphabet-parceled signs were at waist level, the press of bodies obscured them. "If your name is 'T to Z' the line is over here," he hollered as voters jockeyed at the entrance.

Another worker tried to steer people to the vacant "handicapped" booth. She had no takers at first, but as the wait stretched, two women broke for it, then engaged in the island-style "Oh, sorry, you go, no, you go" stutter-step.

When I entered a booth, I noticed that poll workers had taken a suggestion made by a burly voter in the primary election. At that time, the pens provided in the booth had been tethered with a cord toward the back of the writing space, making its use difficult.

"Eh, da string too short," the man had said upon emerging from behind the canvas. "I wen' broke 'em. No can reach. Maybe tie 'em to the front next time."

And so it was.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: coi@starbulletin.com.



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