Opening day of in-person early voting, at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton, Illinois, Sept 24, 2020 (Photos by the author).

Voting felt great. It was a warm and sunny day and the line was long. We rode our bikes to the voting site and got into line as a lot attendant told us to expect to wait for two and a half hours.

As a Democratic Committeeperson for my Township precinct, I had sought the interest of constituents in turning out for opening day of in-person early voting. Many had applied for mail-in ballots and I made sure they knew that they could change their minds and vote in-person, early or on Election Day, but that they must bring their ballots with them if they did. I like to stress the importance of having a plan to vote. Others felt most comfortable mailing in their ballots quickly or else returning them to the County’s drop boxes. Any way they chose to vote was still a plan for voting and that is fine with me.

The opening day voting party was a way to stoke some enthusiasm. As I could not wait to vote myself, my thinking was that I could channel that impatience to rally Democratic voters in my historically Republican dominated part of our area in our blue state. With a ballot full of close local races, we also have many opportunities to press the advantage of our reality within the current political climate.

Initially, six people from four households were willing to commit to the voting party. At the time that the early voting schedule was announced by the County Clerk’s elections office, details were scarce. So, the plan was to meet up at the parking lot on the County government campus. But the news eventually broke that early voting would take place at the adjacent County Fairgrounds on the other side of the courthouse and jail. While the usual location was not radically impacted, it made it more difficult to gather ahead of lining up. By the time opening day came around, we still had six of us but we were more or less on our own. Our communications were effective and all of us voted except for one neighbor who showed up with his wife but had to leave because of the two and a half hour wait — and he eventually returned a few days later to cast his ballot.

Any long line of people presents an opportunity for discourse. Politics was the 900lb gorilla everywhere along the line as people aware of electioneering laws engaged on topics ranging from sports (or the lack of them) to popular culture and entertainment. But the line between culture and politics often blurs in democratic societies and it wasn’t hard for many to give in to the temptation for judgment on our fellow voters based on their respective choices whether or not to wear masks outside and how much to spread out in a social distanced line. Several news crews with correspondents holding extended booms with microphones attached probed the captive pool of prospective interviews from a safe and respectable distance for questions, like what brought them out on opening day.

One of the many middle aged white guys in the line just ahead of us was fairly talkative the entire time. He was a classic “boomer,” clad in a denim work shirt and jeans and wore a Pittsburgh Steelers cap atop his gray hair. He wore a mask on line but neither my wife or I could get a good initial read on where he might land along the political spectrum. As the hours went on, however, certain cultural hints were dropped. An Allman Brothers reference here, a statement of approval for the recent legalization of recreational marijuana there but nothing to confirm a particular lean to the left or right, as we understand them in the age of Trump. He was a veteran and life after discharge led him to Texas on a short string of a couple of imperfect marriages. Texas always triggers my worst judgment. Eventually, he returned to the greater Chicagoland metropolitan area and landed on the other side of DuPage County, where most of the people live.

Behind us was a maskless gentleman in a polo shirt with the logo of a smaller college football team and I made the judgment to avoid all but the most necessary conversation with him. As the line slowly snaked around the gravel lot outside the expo building where the judges and their ballots waited inside, the TV news crews gathered insights and stories from the voters in line. A younger Black man told them that it was his birthday and it felt like a good thing to pay back the wishes he had received for his next trip around the sun with an act of civic action. He was originally from Chicago and now lived in Downers Grove while studying at a downtown college. When the crew moved on, I leaned my elbow toward him, wishing him a happy birthday and received his pandemic elbump as he thanked me and the others around him wishing him the same.

When we got to the doorway of the hollow expo center, where I had come to expect the arts & crafts and photography exhibits during County Fairs over the last twenty-six years, Steeler guy opened up all the way. “Today, I want to take our country back,” he said. He seemed moved by the questions and answers of the news crews and their interviews; and for the first time in nearly two years, I felt an atmosphere like the course we had hoped we began in 2018 when we flipped a couple of US Congressional districts, the governor’s office and a handful of County Board seats.

By the end of opening day, 660 people had voted in person at the County Fairgrounds. And I cannot help but keep reminding myself that both Texas and America are often enough bigger and weirder than they seem. Potential is a renewable resource. Get out there, VOTE! and make the future.

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