Everyone knows your name


They’re always chatting among themselves when I walk in. It’s the primary election and I’ve been sent to area polling places to ask about turnout, and ID requirements, and the answer is that very few people are voting today.

“Lousy!” one woman says, emphatically, when I ask her how it’s been. Her neighbor winces at the word choice, but she’s not holding back.

Very few people are coming in, so it’s a good thing they’re friends, a woman says. They see each other twice a year, spring and fall, and have six months of living to catch up on.

Each polling place is similar. Three or four older women, an older man or two tossed in, sit behind tables littered with ballots and record books and, at noon, Tupperware dishes of pasta salad or casseroles. And they’re all busy chatting when I walk in.

“Well hi Mary,” they say when a voter walks through those doors. “How’s your mother? Do you have your ID?”

It’s a new requirement here in Pennsylvania. Starting in November, every voter must show an ID. They practiced at the primaries. And there’s reasons for and against the change but watching them in these small towns, it seems a little silly here.

“Of course I know who you are, it’s just the law! What’s your boy up to these days?”

And they go on.

They know everything about each other. When one couple blows past me and won’t answer my question about the new rules or give me their names, the emphatic woman is quick to explain.

“They’re just different,” she says, and tries to give me their names out of the record book before the others stop her. When a woman brings her two mentally handicapped sons in with her, they’re all bursting to tell me about the family.

“She’s such a good mother, takes such good care of those boys!” they tell me, as if I should ask her about that instead of voting.

We pull up in front of one tiny building, a one room structure that could fit in most living rooms, and the three ladies are embarrassed by the low turnout. Six voters by noon, of which three were themselves. But there’s only 58 registered, and some of them shouldn’t be on the list.

When you live in a town with 58 registered voters, an ID law doesn’t make much sense. The poll ladies know you, know when you’ve moved, or died, and call the courthouse to get your name off the rolls.

It messes up their percentages, and they’re proud of those percentages. More will come in after work, they tell me. I suspect they’ll start making the phone calls by dinner. Why didn’t you vote? You are coming aren’t you? Don’t disappoint me now.

After work I drop by the yellow-brick church where I vote each year; I’m one of the ones they don’t know, though I recognize them from November.

And I expect it won’t take much longer before they great me by name when I walk in the door, before they ask for my ID.

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