Una Palanca



by Brule Eagan

The community center in the small south Texas town I live in is the polling place whenever election time rolls around.

It’s big enough to accommodate a half-dozen voting booths and the three or four tables the poll workers need. The rest is full of older folks who come to play cards and dominoes, and gossip. And a lot of the gossip is among the men who commiserate over coffee every day.

They’re almost all Mexican-American. Most people down here are. These folks in particular are old enough to remember when they or their parents and grandparents worked for a “patrón” who got them to the polls and suggested how they should vote. This being south Texas meant straight Democratic, which meant “una palanca”, which translates to “one lever” to pull in the voting booth.

We’re about an hour’s drive from the town of Alice, Texas, where a ballot box full of questionable votes elected Lyndon Johnson to his first term as a senator in 1948. Those voters did what they were told, even if many of those voters did not exist. That was then.

Today, this part of Texas is still a Democratic stronghold, although a local Republican is accidentally elected to something or other from time to time. A couple of years back, gerrymandering got us a Republican congressman from Corpus Christi named Blake Farenthold, who somehow managed to get a law degree despite having been the stunt boy on a Corpus radio station’s Morning Zoo. He’s still the congressman there, but another round of gerrymandering took him out of our neighborhood (thankfully, ‘cause he’s a dunderhead). Our congressman now is Filemon Vela, Jr., notable for recently telling Donald Trump to stick his border wall “up your ass”. (There’s something you won’t hear on the Morning Zoo, or then again, you might.) Vela’s dad, Filemon Sr., was a United States federal judge nominated by Jimmy Carter.

Those old men playing cards were a good deal younger then, and were silently proud when men like Judge Vela achieved what they achieved. The junior Vela obviously isn’t as consistently decorous as his dad was, but he doesn’t have to be. Times have changed as much as they haven’t.

It was in this atmosphere, this political climate, and this building where I cast my ballot on the first day of early voting. Four people were already marking their ballots — we don’t have mechanical voting machines anymore — and I scanned my ballot to make sure I could vote a straight ticket with a clear conscience, which I did.

There wasn’t anybody watching me or anyone else in the booths. There wasn’t anyone outside, other than the people entering and exiting the building, going about their business, not annoying anyone. And because of strict accounting procedures, there won’t be a repeat of what happened upstate in Alice back in ’48.

After marking my ballot, a poll worker showed me the box to drop it in, handed me an “I Voted” sticker, and I was on my way. In and out in about three minutes.

There were 350 other people who voted there that day. I’m told that’s 55% more than the first day of early voting in 2012. Other precincts in the vicinity had a similar spike in first-day turnout. Make of that what you will.

November 8th is going to be a day equally busy and momentous.

Please vote.