Arkansas writer Madlyn Springston lives in Rogers. She writes fiction and nonfiction in a variety of genres. Like many of us, as another Election Day approaches, she finds herself comparing 2016 to 2020. In her case, she has a journal entry from 2016 to refresh her memory.
By Madlyn Springston
Finally, it’s time for another presidential election! I have come across the journal entry that I wrote the night of the 2016 election, and I can’t help comparing it to my voting experience with this 2020 election four years later.
November 2, 2016
My alarm clock buzzed at 7:30. I brewed a cup of Irish Breakfast tea, got dressed, and headed out into the drizzly morning for a short drive to the Park and Recreations building. The voting line moved quickly. Exchanging smiles with the clerk, I took my ballot to the booth and punched in my vote. I regretted that I wasn’t sure who all the local candidates for the other offices were, so I chose all that represented my party and hoped for the best.
I had promised myself a real cup of coffee as a reward for performing my civic duty, so I walked around the nearby streets and alleys until I located a little cafe I’d been meaning to try.
Stepping inside, I was greeted by rich coffee aroma and the smell of fresh baked goods. Enlarged photos of Guatemala filled the walls. The only one in the room was a friendly man behind the counter who introduced himself as Mauricio. In a charming accent, he enthusiastically described his different ways of brewing coffee. When I asked about the photos, he told me he had recently moved his family to Northwest Arkansas from Guatemala, and he wanted to share the beauty and culture of his heritage with his new neighbors.
When I finished my latte, I spotted some note-sized photo prints for sale. One depicted a Day of the Dead table display. I asked Mauricio if Guatemala had a celebration similar to the Mexican one. They did, but with some differences. The Guatemalan tradition includes launching kites in memory of the dead. He showed me pictures on his laptop.
Wow! The kites were huge, requiring five or six people to launch them. Many were round, though there were other shapes. Their colorful designs reminded me of mandala drawings made with colored sand and ritually destroyed when completed. Whole families work together making these kites for months before the November 1 celebration. The kites honor their loved ones and ancestors, the idea being that the kite-string connects the earth and the heavens. At the end of the ceremony, the kites are set free. After putting in all that work, their creators let them go. Labors of love, vehicles of hope.
Beautiful and aspirational.
Like Tibetan sand paintings.
Like votes in a democracy.
I left the cafe with a hopeful bounce to my step.
Back home, after dinner, I wrote awhile and went to bed, letting the final results play out without me. I closed the journal entry by typing a last-minute prayer: God bless America.
October 9, 2020
When I rose from bed nearly four years later, it was without the buoyant excitement I’d felt in 2016.
Yes, I was paranoid, with all the controversy about voting accuracy, not to mention the shadows being cast on the US Post Office’s ability to deliver the mail. Best be safe and hand-deliver it.
Still, I allowed myself a glimmer of hope as I went over every detail of my absentee ballot and the accompanying voter’s statement, making sure all the correct boxes were ticked and that I had signed where required.
I’d contacted the county clerk’s office in a panic the day before when I discovered the mailing label on the materials I’d received from that office showed my city as Little Flock instead of Rogers (my postal mailing address). The clerk assured me there would be no problem with my ballot, that they use the 911 address for voting materials. My ID and statement would not be rejected.
Everything looked good on my form, and I felt satisfied with my ballot. This year I’d taken plenty of time and effort checking out every candidate and issue and had confidence in every little circle I’d inked in. I slipped the ballot into its special envelope and attached a copy of my photo ID to the voter’s statement. After inserting the sealed ballot envelope and the other papers into the larger envelope, I took a last look at the checklist on the back and sealed it up.
When my friend Pauline arrived, I put on my mask and headed to the backseat of her car. Covid caution, you know. We are both senior citizens, after all.
Our friends Susan and Brian were already there waiting when we got to the parking lot across from the courthouse. Susan called on her cellphone to let the clerk know we were coming so she could come outside and get our ballots.
We all marched purposefully across the street and took our places on the six-feet-apart dots on the sidewalk leading to the building. A young woman came out, also wearing a mask, and took our ballots one at a time. She matched the mailing label on the envelope to the photo ID—although I’m not sure how much she could tell about our faces, being they were two-thirds covered by our masks. I think I wore my bumble bee mask that day.
We all smiled and thanked her and she smiled back. At least I took it on faith that we did, our eyes peering brightly over the tops of our masks. Then, with a collective sigh of relief, our little group strolled down to a restaurant with socially-distanced outdoor seating to celebrate.
It’s too soon to know if celebrations are actually in order.
There may even be a few days of counting votes after November 3. After lengthy early voting, I guess I can hold on a little longer.
Once again, I’ve sent my vote out into the atmosphere and let it go. Like those Guatemalan kites.
Like sand paintings.
Like a prayer.
God bless America.