Employed or not, voting ritual often the same

People wait in line to vote at the Caroline High School polling station, on November 6, 2012 in Milford, Va. In many ways, the 2012 presidential election is a referendum on a number: the nation's unemployment rate of 7.9 percent.

At the Unified Baptist Church in San Bernardino, Calif., election day 2012 gets a quiet and unceremonious beginning.

The sun rises over the San Bernardino Mountains, warming the Spanish tiles on the roof. A poll worker tapes a sign reading "polling place" -- in English and in Spanish -- to the white stucco facade of the building. There is no line when another poll worker in a pink hoodie opens the door to reveal a row of small electronic voting machines inside. 

Lee Carey, a trained mechanic, recently lost his job as a security guard. He's still out of work, but says the upside is it makes voting easier.

"You go when you wanna go," he says. "If you work, you've got to run home, change or whatever, then go vote at your voting place. That's just a hassle."

San Bernardino and Oklahoma City may not share much, but they are connected -- by Route 66. And 1,200 miles up that famed U.S. highway is the Northwest Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

Voters from three different districts stand in line to vote, and most are dressed for work. They mill about and work on their phones before grabbing a ballot, filling it out in a cardboard cubicle and feeding it into a machine.

Kyle Thomas calls himself an underemployed artist/actor. When it comes to getting out and voting, he says it shouldn’t matter whether you have a job.

"It may work for some, but I don’t think it ought to," he says. 

Some voters here credit the low unemployment rate to state leaders, and they say they’re voting less on the economy and more on social issues. 

"We’re in the Bible Belt," says Paula Stidham, a customer service representative for an elderly center. "It probably has much to do with that -- more about our Bible than sometimes about our politics. "

Like most of the voters here, Stidham is in and out of the church in about 30 minutes and on her way to work without much of a delay.

Back in San Bernardino, the line inches along. A little girl leans on her grandmother's wheelchair looking bored. Her only entertainment is a gopher sticking its head out of a hole on the church's lawn.

"I think everyone should vote because times are tough and people have  a lot of issues and things have to be addressed," says Kathleen Foley, whose  job as a worker’s comp specialist was phased out after 21 years. She says she has always voted and will continue to vote whether she is employed or not.

"There's a lot of people that are off work," she says. "But I think if we have the right person in office, we will steadily increase and do better."

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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