The old man walked very slowly into Mather High School to vote. He was using a walker, the kind with wheels on the front and little skis on the back.
He had one of those bright yellow safety belts around his chest that can be grabbed if the wearer starts to fall. A young man was holding onto that from behind, through the old man’s coat. A woman of about 70, much younger than the old man, was walking shotgun alongside.
Pain wracked the old man’s face. It would get worse.
By the time he got up to the desk, a judge was ready to give him a ballot. We both started voting at about the same time. We both finished at the same time.
As the trio left, I stayed behind to return a phone call. It took about 10 minutes. When I finally went out the door, the three of them had progressed less than 60 feet.
The old man’s knees were so bent that it was impressive that he could still stand, let alone walk. Beads of sweat rolled down his cheeks.
The lady was asking him where he wanted to eat. “Do you want to go to the Oasis or find something at home?”
He didn’t answer directly, but said, “My legs are barely working as it is.”
As I watched him, my first thought was, “Mail ballots were made for situations like this. Stubborn old bird.”
I then realized that he was likely voting early and in person for the same reason I was. He had lost confidence in the sabotaged mails, and maybe also the persnickety forms and envelopes, and he wanted to make sure.
My third thought was this: what if he wasn’t a resident of Chicago, where elections are a favorite sport, and the authorities make voting painless as possible? He could live in Atlanta, where a shortage of polling places has people waiting in line for up to eight hours. Or Florida or Texas, where there are long lines, too. The guy couldn’t have voted in person there without risking his life.
So all these old people, each of whom Donald Trump dismisses as the “virtually nobody” who is dying of COVID-19, can’t get even at a polling place in states like these.
It’s maddening. In Alabama, at least two counties, Jefferson and Montgomery, were planning curbside voting. That would let disabled people, and others who don’t want to catch the virus, vote almost risk-free, by just handing their ballot through a car window instead of going in. A local court said they could.
Some Alabama officials had sued, maintaining that any counties that wanted to do it couldn't be trusted to handle it, even though they said Yes, they could handle it. And Wednesday, the five conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices said they couldn’t do it.
They didn’t say why, because they don’t have to explain emergency orders. And because they didn't want to.
I dissent. I remember the days before electronic tax filing, and mail carriers would stand in front of post offices on April 15 and take stamped IRS letters from drivers. All they did was say “Thank you.” They didn't open the envelopes to check the arithmetic.
I am working the Nov. 3 election as a judge in Chicago. I will be pleased to do the curbside thing, because it’s a cinch. I’ll just do the same thing outside in the fresh air that I’ll be doing inside.
Since I’m a judge, why didn’t I just plan to vote the day of the election, you ask? Because I could get hit by a bus before election day, and this is one vote I wanted to make sure was counted.
It would be great if my vote was cast from the grave to help oust the worst president in at least a century. It would give my foreshortened life some meaning.
It may not be my destiny, but many dead Americans will legally vote in this election. Lots of the early voters will have died by Nov. 3 because of the political neglect of the man they’ll be haunting with their ballots.
Voting may be the most important thing most of you living people will do this year. Just think of what you do the rest of the time. Maybe you’re in marketing. What, exactly, do you do for the good of the human race?
Even if you’re a doctor, how valuable are you? Some of you would have a hard time diagnosing a broken leg if the bone was sticking out.
Many of you have been taking care of families 24-7 since March. You’re not sure if your kids are any smarter or sturdier, but you certainly can bake some spiffy sourdough now.
So please don’t tell yourself you’re too busy to do this one thing that means so much. Many people blew it off four years ago, and look where that got us.
You’re probably not occupied every minute with something more important, in the great scheme of things.
If that guy with the walker and the strap around his chest can do it, you can, too.
After all, you’ll want to have a good answer to “Grandpa, how did you vote in 2020?”
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