Ella Louise was the last voter on my list Tuesday evening, and I'd been going all day. When I called to let her know that I was on my way, she sounded ready to go. "No one's come for us yet!" It was time to vote.
A man was standing in her front yard. He looked old—waist-bent, grey-bearded, wearing a baseball cap. After he helped the 88-year-old Ella into my back seat, we set off for the address that I'd been given for their polling station. We began the conversations of strangers: lovely day, have you lived here long, where are your roots, what is your line of work? Ella, turns out, is a native of Mount Olive, one of 16 children, a longtime resident of Brooklyn, a home health-care worker and, as of about a year ago, a retiree to Garner.
After a few miles, she wondered if this didn't feel like a long way to the precinct. "In Mount Olive," Ella said, "I always voted just down the road."
Eventually, I pulled into a curbside voting slot, thinking it would be the most convenient for Ella. A man offered an overly long explanation of the state's curbside rules and asked Ella to fill out a form with her name, address and signature. She'd brought the wrong glasses, so this took some time. When she finished, we resumed chitchatting as the poll worker exchanged the forms for ballots.
"How long have the two of you been married?" I asked.
There was a polite sniff in the back. Finally, Randolph replied, no trace of politeness in his voice: "That's my Mama."
"I've been screwing up all day, y'all," I offered. "I called a woman John because it said 'John' on my sheet, and she had a very low voice. I think maybe I should just stop talking today."
"Maybe so," Randolph said, gruff.
After I'd heard a lot from sweet Ella about her 16 brothers and sisters, the untimely death of her daughter, the bounties of the farm in Mt. Olive and so on, the worker returned to say there was no record of either voter at his precinct. Creech Road was where Randolph was registered, but there was no proof that Ella was registered anywhere in Raleigh. She protested.
"I've always voted in Mt. Olive," she said. "Before that, New York. They can call any one of those places and know I'm a registered voter. I've been voting for—I don't know how long I've been voting for."
It started to get dark. Randolph yawned. Ella seemed overwhelmed. Creech Road didn't help. It was packed. I made two circles around and said, "I think you may want to go inside if you can manage it."
Ella was going to have to fill out a provisional ballot, and this would take time. I helped them in and, 30 minutes later, returned. Ella had just finished filling out the information portion of her provisional ballot.
I was supposed to be at rehearsal in 20 minutes, and I was starving. But mostly, I worried about Ella. She'd complained about her knee hurting, and at some point, she'd have to stand in a line. I went in to check again. They were in line and OK, they said—a pat from Ella, something friendlier than a growl from Randolph.
I moved the car to the curb. They emerged at 7:15 p.m., exactly two and a half hours after I'd picked them up.
"Did you get to vote, Ms. Moore?" I asked.
"Yes, I sure did," she said.
Again, Randolph yawned loudly.
I was eager to get these good, tired and insulted folks back home. I would grab a sandwich, head to rehearsal and try to feel better about my day. And then, when I made a left turn, I realized just how dark it had become: Flick. Flick. Flick. No headlights. No streetlights. I found a driveway and parked.
The owner of the house was kind, and my husband, Skillet, came to the rescue after an endless and awkward wait. Ella and Randolph squeezed into his small pickup, and I limped home with hazard lights, tailgating him while praying against cops.
But Ms. Ella had voted. She would help Hagan beat Tillis. I guess that's something else I got wrong on Tuesday.