Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Turning the Page - Dispatches from the Voter Registration Front

A middle-aged woman approached me yesterday around a quarter 'til six while I was standing out in front of the Kroger at Edgewood Commons with my bicycle-powered voter registration station and said, "I'm a convicted felon. Can I vote?" I told her, as I had been instructed, that if she had finished serving her sentence, including any time on parole, that the new Georgia law said that she certainly could. "I have done that," she responded, "a long, long time ago."

I could tell by the way she spoke those words that her conviction and her prison sentence were, for her, features of a former life, one that she had left behind entirely, except for a reminder every two years at election time that she was still required to continue to pay a price for mistakes made by her younger self.

"What do I have to do to register," she asked.

"Just fill out one of these forms."

"Do I take it with me?"

"You can take it with you or fill it out here, if you like."

"I want to fill it out right now."

With that she took my clipboard and pen and began to complete the registration form.

Typically I try not to look at people while they do this. The information they supply is personal and I imagine the registration process, like voting itself, to be a private activity. This time I could not help but glance at the woman's face and found myself struck by her expression of quiet determination as she moved the pen carefully across the paper, unlike most registrants at the supermarket who are in a rush to get on with their after-work grocery shopping and to get on home. This time it was different. This time there was an important task to be done and it had to be done properly.

Her words on the voter registration form were the closing words of a story that began "a long, long time ago," one that had finally - and rightfully - come to an end.
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