(This piece was written specifically to be read aloud at an event happening on the evening of November 7th at the Bearded Lady Mystic Museum in Burbank. Because that’s the day after the midterm elections – and because I know, whichever way they go, that they’ll still be on everyone’s mind – I wanted to write about what voting could be like in the future if we don’t exercise that right now.)
As Conn put on her armor, Mei rushed forward, grabbing her arm. “Don’t go.”
“The autodoc says the baby’s fever is 102. He needs antibiotics –“
Mei pulled her close, breathing out, “But it’s Election Day.”
“Which is why the drug store won’t deliver.” Conn spoke as she buckled the heavy vest into place. “They’re only two blocks away. I’ll move fast, keep my head down…” She finished securing the vest, pulled Mei into a desperate kiss, checked a last time on little Alex (so hot, so weak), then headed out the door. If she stayed one more second her resolve would crumble.
But they’d fought too hard for Alex. She wouldn’t lose him now.
The instant she stepped out of their apartment, she heard the sounds from the street, three stories below: shouting, sirens, gun blasts.
Move fast…head down…no eye contact. She could do this. She had to do this.
She jogged down the three flights, trying not to flinch at each new scream or thud from below. The building lobby was deserted; a pool of blood congealed on the floor next to an overturned chair.
Taking a deep breath, Conn opened the door and stepped outside.
She was immediately enveloped in chaos. People in masks rushed by her, some waving guns and heavy iron bars. On the other side of the street a car was on fire. Police in riot gear ran past, giving chase. Conn tried not to risk looking at anything for more than a second. Instead she pulled her hood down lower over her face and watched her feet.
She reached the end of the first block. She could see the drug store sign not far ahead now…
A huge, uniformed figure stepped in front of her, blocking the way. “Excuse me, citizen –“
Heart hammering, Conn pretended she hadn’t heard, tried to step around.
The man sidestepped with her and thrust a badge forward, speaking forcefully. “Excuse me, citizen – Election Police. Present your ID, please.”
No. Goddamnit, no. So close. “I’m just…my baby is sick, he’s only six months old and he needs antibiotics –“
The E.P. cut her off. “I don’t recall asking about your baby. I asked for your ID.”
Conn restrained an urge to cry as she removed a glove and held out her hand. The E.P. scanned her prints, then read the scanner’s screen. “Consuela Cheung, is that right?”
“You know what day it is today, Consuela?”
“Yes, sir, it’s Election Day.”
“Says here you haven’t voted yet.”
“I was going to, after I get the medicine for my little boy…”
The E.P.’s hand went to her arm, his grip so firm she wondered if it was bioware-enhanced. “How about you vote first, Consuela, then you can do whatever you need to do.”
He began to steer her down a side street. Away from the drugstore. Toward the Voting Center.
Mei had been right – she should’ve waited until tomorrow. Alex’s fever might have gone away on its own, she would’ve been there to tend to him…
The E.P.’s deep voice (was that enhanced, too? Was he even human?) broke into her regrets. “Where are you from, Consuela? Some third world shithole?”
“No, sir, I was born right here.”
“So you’re a naturalized citizen.”
“No,” Conn said, trying to master being firm without being aggressive, “I was born here.”
“Well, then, you shouldn’t need me to make sure you vote. Do you believe that voting is a right and a privilege?”
“So you should be celebrating Election Day 2038 by voting, shouldn’t you?”
They had to trudge around a scuffle between some rioters shoving against a wall of shielded cops, then they bypassed a line of cautious guards clutching assault tasers and stepped into a large, modern building squatting beneath a huge glowing sign that read VOTING CENTER. Conn saw other citizens being marched forward by Election Police, but she took no comfort in knowing she wasn’t alone.
Her E.P. flashed a badge to an entrybot that responded in its mechanical voice, “Thirty-six.”
The E.P. led Conn down a long line of rooms, each numbered, until they came to Thirty-six. He held his scanner up to the door, which clicked open. He pushed Conn through, stepping back as the door closed.
Conn was in a small cubicle, featureless except for a screen set into the wall. The screen abruptly lit up with the smiling face of The Great Leader. “Welcome to Election Day 2038,” he gushed.
Conn felt her gut turn over. When he was first elected more than twenty years ago, she’d just turned old enough to vote, but she’d stayed home instead. The Great Leader, she thought, the Great Asshole.
“Today,” the Leader continued, “you will participate in the excitement of democracy. Get ready, follow the simple instructions, and do the right thing.”The camera punched in for a tight close-up as the Leader added, “Or pay the price for your mistake.”
His face vanished and was replaced by a row of five identical red buttons, none marked. A soft, reasonable voice – definitely not the Leader’s – came over the speakers. “Vote #1. Please use the touch-screen to make your choice.”
Conn waited, expecting some explanation to be offered, but when nothing came after several seconds, she asked, “What am I voting on?”
“You are voting on #1.”
Eyeing the unidentified buttons, Conn said, “Is this screen broken?”
“The voting mechanism is functioning perfectly.”
“How do I know what each button is for?”
This time there was no response.
Conn turned around and tried to open the door, but there was no knob or handle. She pounded on it, calling out, “Hello? If anyone can hear me, I think my machine is broken…”
The machine’s comforting voice said, “You have five seconds remaining to decide.”
“Or what?” Conn asked.
Feeling panic rising within, Conn stabbed out a finger, hitting anything. The buttons on the screen were replaced by bouncy emoticons giving her a thumbs-up.
After a few seconds, a new row of buttons appeared. This time they were blue, green, purple, orange, and yellow. The screen was otherwise empty.
“Vote #2,”said the voice.
“Fine,” Conn said, and punched the purple button.
A frowning animated face appeared on the screen, as the lights in the room darkened. “Would you like to try that vote again?”
The buttons appeared again. This time Conn pressed the orange one, and was rewarded with the happy emoticons.
The screen went completely black.
“Vote #3,” said the voice.
Conn stared at the featureless screen. “There’s nothing there…”
“You have five seconds to decide.”
Conn began pressing the screen at random – were the buttons black, so they couldn’t be easily seen?
The dour emoticons appeared again. “You have failed to exercise your lawful voting privileges.”
The door to the room opened, and before Conn could react an E.P. had slammed her against a wall and snapped handcuffs on her wrists. “Wait – what are you doing -?”
The voice answered, “You will be transferred to a Voters Re-education Camp.”
Conn struggled as the E.P. tried to pull her from the room. “A what? Since when do we have Voters Re-education Camps?”
“Since tonight. You approved it yourself in Vote #1.”
“But the voting’s still going on! It’s impossible for you to put that into law already!”
“I’m afraid it’s not – that was Vote #2.”
The E.P. had her out the door now, but for some reason Conn persisted in arguing with the disembodied voice. “But my little boy is sick, and he-“
The voice interrupted, “Alex has been taken into custody, as has your domestic partner. She will be sent to a Gender Reorientation Camp, and Alex will receive training in the Leader’s Youth Corps. You should be very proud.”
Conn’s last thought before the E.P. tasered her was that she should never have stayed home from that election twenty-some-odd years ago.