Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Schadenfreude at the Polls

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Can you die from an overdose of schadenfreude? Asking for a friend.

There's a lot of schadenfreude (a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people) going around these days, mostly among Democrats, who are gleefully watching the Republicans fight among themselves about Donald Trump.

But with the election still more than 90 days away, it would behoove Democrats and other "never Trumpers" to keep their eyes on the prize. Candidates stumble and misspeak. Domestic and international developments can sway non-committed voters. Third-party candidates can impact close contests in swing states. And it's becoming increasingly obvious that computer hacks (foreign and domestic) are in play. Crazier things than a Trump turnaround have happened in the long history of American presidential politics.

I witnessed a bit of schadenfreude at my polling station last Thursday. As I was waiting for poll officials to determine my residency (more on that later), a woman approached the table to vote. Forgive me for stereotyping, but she appeared to be a classic grande dame, a well-dressed Southern lady of a certain age. Her accent was deeply Southern, even aristocratic. When asked her party affiliation, she said "Republican," her tone indicating that such a question was rather unneccessary.

The poll-worker, a crisply efficient black woman, then said, "I'll need to see a driver's license or other photo ID." And that's when things got interesting.

"Well, I don't drive anymore," the woman said, "so I don't have a driver's license. And I don't have a photo ID."

"Ma'am, I'm sorry," the poll-worker said, "but state law requires that we see a photo ID."

"But I've been voting here for decades," the woman said, her outrage growing. "They've never asked me for a photo ID."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am. We have no choice. Do you have a passport?"

"Well, yes, of course, but it's at home and my son is picking me up here."

"Sorry, Ma'am."

The woman blustered and complained and fussed some more. Finally, with perhaps just the slightest hint of irony, the poll-worker asked, "Do you have a handgun carry permit?"

"No, I do not! And I just think I'm going to leave!"

And so, thanks to our state's photo-ID law, another undocumented immigrant (in a brilliant disguise) was denied a vote. Well played, GOP. Well played.

I took no joy from this, honestly. The woman obviously had a right to vote. And so did I, or, at least, I thought I did. But thanks to our crack Shelby County Election Commission, I, too, was initially denied. After voting at the same location for eight years, my name was no longer on my neighborhood precinct voting rolls. I was told if I wanted to vote, I'd have to journey to another precinct's polling place, a couple of miles away — nowhere near my house. After much bitching, I gave up and drove over there and voted. If I'd not had a car, I'd have been out of luck.

Afterwards, I went home and checked the Election Commission precinct map, which is a real piece of work (see sample above). Many major streets (i.e. Peabody, Central, Belvedere) are listed as "no name," and the precinct lines are difficult to discern. But after looking closely at the map, it was clear that my proper polling place was still the one I'd always gone to. The EC had arbitrarily and incorrectly moved me elsewhere to vote.

I have no idea how such a thing could happen — or why my name was plucked out of a computer's list of voters and moved to a precinct where I don't live. I do know that Election Commission screw-ups are now routine with every election in Shelby County, and the system needs a major overhaul, pronto. Come November, the stakes are too high for incompetence.

And replace that stupid map.

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