Easy Does it in Rural Geneva

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Easy Does it in Rural Geneva

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Evans Bacon, 91, helped put voters in good spirits in his role of Poll Deputy in Geneva, Fla.

My Election Day began with a visit to the chiropractor. Good thing, because the ballot in Seminole County figured to be a back-breaker.

It was four pages long. Voting for President, Senator and U.S. Representative was the easy part. After that were choices for eight state and county offices and an onerous referendum on three Florida Supreme Court justices. Most daunting were 11 proposed amendments to the state constitution, and a millage proposal to fund county schools. The summary of one constitutional amendment was 664 words, incomprehensible to all but policy wonks. Another summary was 585 words, lengthy even for a high school essay.

My vote was cast in Geneva, a rural hamlet about 35 miles northeast of Orlando and 15 miles east of Sanford, the latter made infamous last February by the "stand your ground" killing of Travon Martin. The constituency in Precinct 70 is eclectic, with ranchers and handymen standing in voting lines at the First Baptist Church alongside Siemens engineers and University of Central Florida professors.

I had expected to witness frustration and exasperation, thanks to the length of the ballot and obfuscation of the amendment proposals. That wasn't the case. Everyone was in high spirits, and the half dozen voters I queried said they had done their homework on the issues beforehand. Nearly everyone arrived armed with a "cheat sheet" - a sample ballot mailed to homes by the county Supervisor of Elections, with advice to "review this information and take this with you to the voter booth for quicker voting." It was reassuring that so many people complied.

My cheat sheet-aided vote was cast during a late-afternoon lull. I timed several other voters, from when they entered the polling place until they exited, and their average experience was the same as mine: 10 minutes.

Earlier in the day, I had heard griping about long lines at other polling places in the area. (My wife endured a three-and-a-half hour wait Saturday, the last day of early voting in Florida.). Polling workers at Precinct 70 told me there had been a one-hour wait before 10 a.m., when the line snaked around two-thirds of the building. They reckoned they would process roughly 4,600 ballots, a high turnout for that location.

Of course, it's impossible to know how many people actually researched the amendment proposals, or how many simply ignored them and left that portion of the ballot blank. I'm a cynic, fearful that the demise of America's education system, combined with a decline in veracity of information in the so-called information age, has created a gullible electorate that's easily duped by shrill rhetoric. Yet I was buoyed by what I saw in Geneva.

There was a palpable sense of community on Election Day, as evidenced by the banter between so many voters and 91-year-old Evans Bacon, who has been a Poll Deputy in Geneva for 20 years.

Bacon, who is African American, never advanced past elementary school, he says, because grade levels higher than that were reserved for white kids. He's a World War II veteran, serving in an all-black (except for the white captain) motor pool division in Orlando. He was a hired man for a local citrus grower for four decades., starting at $33 a week. After that, he revels in telling everyone he meets, "I was driving Miss Daisy," looking after the landowner's widow, al a Morgan Freeman. Now, Bacon says, "They call me the Sanford and Son of Geneva," because he spends time salvaging items set out on trash collection days.

On Election Day, Mr. Bacon was more than just a polling place doorkeeper and greeter. He symbolized the bedrock of American democracy, that every citizen has the right to vote, and each vote carries the same weight.

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