My Six-Hour Wait
To Help Make 'History' : Daydreaming
Why did it take six hours to cast early ballots in L.A. County this weekend?
NPR logo My Six-Hour Wait<br />To Help Make 'History'

My Six-Hour Wait
To Help Make 'History'

The Line
Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR

By now you've likely seen the photographs: lines that stretch for a good quarter-mile, snaking around the glass boxes that comprise the Los Angeles County Registrar's office. If you look carefully, you might see me -- standing between Peta, a sweet nurse from the Burn Unit at L.A. County Hospital, and Joyce, a friendly woman with close-cropped hair.

Peta, Joyce and I -- and about 2,500 other people -- stood in line for hours to vote early on Saturday. Even more people did the same on Sunday.

Why vote early? In my case, all those predictions of massive logjams on voting day left me worried. What if I got tied up reporting on -- ah, irony -- the election on Tuesday and didn't have enough time to vote? I couldn't let that happen.

I went to Norwalk, about an hour away from my house, because it was the only option. Snafus in past elections prompted the Board of Election to centralize early voting in L.A County this year.

Early voters cast their ballots in Norwalk. AP hide caption

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Officials had no idea so many would come. I had no idea that my fellow voters would be so patient, friendly and determined.

I spent four of my nearly six-hour wait next to Peta, a Seventh Day Adventist.

"I should be in church," she whispered (Adventists go on Saturday), "but I don't know how long the lines will be on Tuesday, and I don't want to miss being able to vote this year."

I listened as Joyce, a black woman in her 60s, explained to a young Asian American woman why she was willing to endure the wait.

"50 years ago, in a lot of parts of the country, they wouldn't let someone like me vote," she said. "So I vote every election--but this one is especially important. This one is history."

History. You heard that over and over again. It's why people used their only day off to vote early. It's why several brought babes in arms; a woman in front of me held a 9-month-old who looked as if he could be a baby model.

"He won't remember he was here," she admitted, "but we can point to his picture that we took today, and he'll know he was part of history."

So the line continued, even as it poured briefly.

As the hours passed, we eagerly awaited the moment we would step into the tent -- assuming that was where the voting occurred. But when I arrived, I found that it was just the first in yet another series of steps; get number, wait for someone in Registrar's office to verify voter is registered, then wait -- at least in my case -- nearly two hours more for number to be called.

It was like hysterical bingo: you could tell when someone who'd been waiting a particularly long time for his or her number to come up: there where whoops of joy when the number was called, a cascade of applause and shouts of congratulation.

"632!" the announcer barked. Me! That was me! My turn to vote! I hustled up to exchange my number for a ballot, stepped into the plastic voting booth, and filled in the little bubbles indicating my choices.

And then, in ten minutes (that was if you'd done your research on the state's many ballot initiatives), it was over.

I emerged clutching a receipt and a little "I Voted" sticker, tired and soggy, but oddly elated: I'd voted!

Out in the parking lot, I saw Joyce striding toward her car under still-glowering skies.

"Congratulations, honey," she called, waving her rolled-up canvas chair in exuberant triumph, "you were part of history!"

And so I was. However it turns out.