“The three vignettes of ‘The Voting Booth’ are gripping little glimpses into the lives of radically different characters who, like every reader, have their own particular, idiosyncratic relationship to the voting booth and the act of casting a vote. That small act of political power citizens have is presented as something deeply personal and explored through the stories of characters who each carry their own baggage and obstacles through life; the reader is left questioning how those things might manifest as a cross on the ballot paper.” – Naush Sabah
James quickly checked his reflection in the car mirror and then stared down at the two jackets draped over the passenger seat – a brown duffle coat and a slightly tattered one of black leather – pondering which Marcia would like more. Confident cool guy or sophisticated academic? Definitely academic. He didn’t want to look conspicuous: who does at the polling station? Besides, cool guys don’t wear glasses or work as accountants. He slid the coat on, locked the car, and paced towards the old events hall – a mostly abandoned building but they had the odd coffee morning for cancer or dementia.
When he entered, he quickly glanced around the room, searching for Marcia, and saw her concentrating on some polling form. He’d come here to surprise his generous, volunteer girlfriend (and to be a responsible citizen and vote, of course) so paced timidly towards her.
“Surprise!” he shouted, smiling and making Marcia flinch.
“I thought you weren’t coming; you said you had too much paperwork.” She looked distraught.
“Aren’t you happy I’m here?” he asked, disappointed, as Marcia picked up a small voting slip.
“No, it’s just- “
A booming voice behind James (reminiscent of a car horn) interrupted her.
“Mazzy, you are looking damn fine today.”
The man was lankily tall with dirty blonde hair and garish green eyes – almost the opposite of James with his short and stout figure. He swaggered towards Marcia with an air of stupidity, as if he probably couldn’t even name all the parties on the ballot. James watched with horror as the man paced towards ‘Mazzy’, held her delicately by the chin, and clasped their lips together. Frozen solid, Marcia’s eyes were flickering back and forth between the man and James.
James ripped the voting slip from Marcia’s grasp, stormed to the voting booth, and put a cross in thick grey pencil on the first option he could see that he knew Marcia would dislike. Messily, he folded the slip and dropped it in the box. However, as he left, he didn’t even ponder his voting choice as he could only focus on one thing; the lanky man was wearing a black leather jacket just like the one James left behind in the car, and it looked so much better on him.
Freezing cold inside the cell, the sun outside was beaming. Minh’s skin was sprinkled with morning sunlight; the steel mesh covering over the window blocked a lot of the light, so the rays were scattered over her skin, creating an ugly pattern. For the past five months, Minh had yearned to feel the sun – the obnoxious, unrestricted sun – warm her skin. She couldn’t care less if the sweltering heat would ail her with sunburn or heatstroke, all she wanted was the soft touch of a distant star, undiluted by the window mesh. However, Minh also began to yearn for something that she never even thought about in her younger years.
Minh desperately wanted to vote.
When she saw her cellmate crawl out of bed to scratch a splotchy blue cross on her postal ballot (for what party she could not see from the top bunk) all she wanted to do, like her peer, was to take the crisp white envelope from the guard with grateful eyes. She longed for control, for choice, for a voice. But Minh wasn’t a citizen. She would never have any sort of ballot.
Standing in the curtained booth, Soraya felt nauseous. She had spent hours over the past few weeks watching the news, scouring every individual party’s website, and had probably watched an unhealthy amount of question time. Worrying about being an ‘uneducated voter’ haunted her, especially since this was going to be her first time voting – she had been 18 for just a few months. She was so sure of herself that a week before she had posted a massive picture of her and her mum emblazoned with who they were voting for on her Facebook wall (bold, she knew, but she’d just had a long rant with her brother’s friend about feminism and was furious). However, now that she was stood in the booth, alone and unshielded by who she was, with only a carboard cubicle wall to protect her, Soraya felt lost.
She knew that whoever saw that ballot when they were counting had only that cross in a box to define her. She knew that when her friends would ask “who did you vote for?” tomorrow and in five, ten, fifteen years, then she had to give an answer, an answer that was guaranteed not to please everyone. She also knew that she only had a few minutes before the man at the desk began to worry and would come and ask her if she was okay.
Soraya etched a cross, but she wasn’t happy. There wasn’t a choice on that ballot which would have satisfied her, although what saddened her is that she knew there would never be a day when she’d be satisfied with the cross on her ballot