Ralph had been checking a text message on his personal phone. I was a distraction.
Ah, America, 2010.
Which reminds me of a piece I wrote for the Roanoke Times back when I had a regular column in 2006. I wrote it right after Rick Boucher had beaten Bill Carrico by ... a few votes. I got a kick out of writing it; you might enjoy it as well:
Originally published November 16, 2006.Is that your final vote?By Jerry Fuhrman
Now I had heard and read a good deal about Democrats around the country being alarmed by the potential for chaos and mischief on Election Day as a result of our having decided to take their advice in 2000 and drop the butterfly ballot method of voting and switch to electronic voting machines. It's an odd thing, though, that I haven't heard a single whine since Election Day. Curious indeed.
Anyway, I showed up at the polls in Bland on Nov. 7 (make that poll; the metropolis of Bland has only one voting place, next to the IGA and across from the abandoned car repair shop) to do my civic duty, with list of candidates and issues in hand so as to not inadvertently vote for a candidate I hadn't intended to and regret it the rest of my life. (I think I accidentally voted for Bill Clinton in 1996; I blame myself for his failed presidency.)
When I entered the place, I encountered six people, several of whom were working the room, making sure I wasn't an illegal immigrant, and two elderly voters, one in each of the two booths. Appearing to be short in stature, I could just see tufts of snow-white hair jutting over the top of the partitions.
It took both of them, it seemed, an inordinately long time to cast their ballots, but I just accepted it as being a situation where these older folks were trying to deal with a new technology and needed to navigate carefully through it. In any case, the two finished about the same time and left, both with looks of frustration on their faces.
So it became my turn to vote. I walked around to the front of the booth, approached the machine and touched the blank screen to activate it. It immediately lit up. As it happened, there were two pages to be dealt with, the first having to do with the major issues and races involving Allen/Webb, Boucher/Carrico (I live in the 9th Congressional District), and two of the three Constitutional amendments.
After voting quickly for George Allen by touching my index finger to his name, I moved on to the congressional race. That portion of the ballot looked something like this, as best I can recall:
RICK BOUCHER -- DEMOCRAT
BILL CARRICO -- REPUBLICAN
I pressed CARRICO. The screen immediately changed and the following message appeared:
ARE YOU SURE?
I pushed YES. The screen went dark for a brief moment and then this came up:
YOU REALIZE OF COURSE THAT RICK BOUCHER IS THE MUCH-LOVED INCUMBENT?
Somewhat startled, I hit NO. Then this flashed onto the screen:
YOU REALIZE THAT RICK BOUCHER HAS CREATED 41,000 NEW JOBS IN SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA?
Feeling a bit of exasperation setting in, I firmly pressed NO. Another message immediately appeared:
HEY. THE MAN HAS BUILT INDUSTRIAL PARKS IN NEARLY EVERY COUNTY IN SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA. HAVE YOU TAKEN THAT INTO ACCOUNT?
After letting out a growl, and peering over the top of the booth to see if I was being watched, I put my fist to NO. The machine reacted with a shudder and with this:
YOU ARE AWARE THAT RICK MARRIED RECENTLY? HE WILL SOON HAVE ADDITIONAL MOUTHS TO FEED.
I was by now incredulous and, at the same time, enraged. With teeth clenched, I clawed the surface of the voting machine, raking my fingernails across the screen. I then stabbed NO. The CRT went black. A pause ...
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID THAT NIGHT IN CLEVELAND BACK IN 1994.
I rocked backward, nearly losing my balance. I stared in disbelief. A swirl of disjointed thoughts and surreal images flashed through my mind. That night. The Crazy Horse. Booze. Lots of booze. Wild merrymaking. Feelings of fear and vulnerability came over me. I stood and gazed into the abyss.
DON'T MAKE ME TELL PAULA.
So Rick Boucher beat Bill Carrico, handily, in the general election on Nov. 7. By a whopping 35 points as it turned out. And my marriage is safe. I think.
As for those electronic voting machines, my message to you is this:
BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID.