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Opinion >  Column

Paul Turner: Yearning for old-fashion polling place

An election ballot is placed in ballot box outside of the Spokane Public Library on Nov. 7, 2016, downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
An election ballot is placed in ballot box outside of the Spokane Public Library on Nov. 7, 2016, downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

When Washington switched to voting by mail we gained a bit of convenience.

But we also lost something.

Going to a polling place wasn’t just a symbolic gesture. It was, quite literally, a coming together. It was a small dose of community, even when we are almost unbelievably divided politically.

Don’t we sort of need that right now?

OK, not everyone regarded their time marking a ballot at a fire station as a Norman Rockwell moment or a sacred expression of civic duty. For many, it was a pain easily avoided by simply not taking part.

You probably do not need to be reminded that typical election turnout numbers are a national disgrace. So I suppose there’s a certain logic to making voting easier.

But was it necessary to make exercising one’s franchise more like ordering a dress from a catalog or weighing in on “Dancing With the Stars”?

Yes, this was all debated in our state years ago. Those in favor of voting by mail prevailed. Soon, I’m sure, we’ll be able to cast ballots on our phones.

I am all for convenience. I’m busy, too. Voting by mail has an undeniable upside.

Still, some of us will always think voting should require a little effort. I mean, if you can’t be bothered to haul your posterior down to a church hall in your neighborhood and maybe wait in line for five minutes, well, that speaks for itself. We don’t all see “progress” through the same lens.

OK, provisions have been made for dead-enders who insist on voting in person. But the neighborhood polling places are history. Can you still remember yours?

Since moving to Spokane, I have voted at a fire station, a Lutheran church, an elementary school and finally a Methodist church. Memories of those places crossed my mind this weekend when I took our primary election ballots to a drop-off box outside a branch library.

After depositing our ballots, I saw a guy approaching the box with his own envelope. We didn’t speak. But I did what I always do. I guessed how he voted. Not for my candidates, I surmised.

He looked like a voter who enjoyed declaring that he had “Had it up to here” with this or that outrage.

I miss playing that game, which was a standard part of my old polling place experience. Who did that woman in flip-flops vote against? Did that guy in the head-to-toe camo outfit cancel out my vote? Et cetera.

Funny thing, though. Like many of us, I can be a tad intolerant of the “other” side. But inside those polling places, I had a slightly different feeling.

Oh, I still thought people were crazy to vote for certain candidates. But I didn’t question their right to do so. (How big of me.)

Maybe it was because they had bothered to show up in person.

The view from the cheap seats

You might have noticed. Everyone has opinions.

But have you ever found it curious that some of those with the strongest views about goings-on in the city of Spokane do not live in Spokane?

OK, that doesn’t automatically mean they should pipe down or always defer to actual residents. Maybe they grew up in Spokane or lived here before moving out to the country or wherever. Maybe they reside in Idaho but work here. There are lots of reasons they might legitimately care about the city.

If you live in our metropolitan area, you probably have a right to chime in on anything you please. Still, don’t you more or less forfeit your license to loudly sound off on how Spokane conducts itself after you bail?

You make the call.

Taste this

I don’t want to get anyone in hot water. So I’ll leave her name out of this.

But a friend was saying the other night that a Seattle relative who has never been a fan of Spokane finally has had to admit that we do have something going for us over here: Interesting locally produced beer and wine.

Apparently my friend’s Seattle in-law has gotten into the Spokane tasting room scene. So perhaps it is fair to say anything can happen.

End note

A friend who knows a lot about medical labs offered high praise for “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” a recent book detailing a scandal in the world of blood testing. That made me wonder.

What work of nonfiction about your own field do you particularly admire?

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