Thursday, November 4, 2010

Election Hangover, Sorta

This morning a man in a class I am taking asked me how the election went for me. Although he was unknown to me, I could tell from his slight smirk that he was a gloating Republican.

"Not well," I first replied. Then I rejoined with "No, wait, I really enjoyed Election Day at Carver Recreation and seeing the tremendous response of people who turned out. I just didn't like the final result of the election [with Tom Perriello losing his seat as our representative for the 5th District of Virginia]."

I spent the day as an observer on behalf of the State Democratic Party's voter protection team to make sure the process was transparent and that challenges were handled appropriately.

I was deeply touched by the steady stream of people who showed up to vote -- some with kids in tow, pushing strollers or trying to ride herd on boisterous toddlers, other elderly people with canes, walkers, some accompanied by their adult child, sometimes carrying portable oxygen, a young disabled man in a wheelchair. There were a number of people from public housing who showed up to vote. Because this is not always the case, something -- good local organizing, the appearance of the President the weekend before -- had made them realize the importance of the election and their vote.

Sometimes people learned they were not registered, such as the young woman who had registered when she got her learner's permit at the Department of Motor Vehicles, only to discover that the registration had not shown up on the Board of Election records.

When they were rejected, people were extremely disappointed, which showed how important voting is to many.

Outside the polling place, the regular Carver precinct Democrats -- Tim Sims, Teresa Walker - Price, Former Mayor David Brown, Ann Hill Williams, Donna Goings, Former Vice Mayor John Conover, Jean Hiatt and many others -- greeted voters as they arrived to vote. The Republicans also had a representative greeting voters.

Inside the polling center, I listened as voters gave their names and the electoral workers searched the computer base, asked for their identification and in the large majority of cases, validated their registration and gave them the authorization to proceed to the voting booths.

At the beginning of the day, there were three other observers, all Republicans, with me. I pointed out to them that they were supposed to have only one representative per computer station, and since we had only one station, one was enough. The Republican male did not concur, and I did not complain to anyone, but eventually the Electoral board informed them that three were too many and so they took shifts.

With the Republican women (one Republican and one "Independent" she told me), I bonded as we discussed the community, mutual friends, foods and travels, and our concerns about our community. (I did not discuss our candidates because obviously we had reached different conclusions.)

However, a problem emerged that also bound me to the male Republican inside. We were both trying to observe the resolution of a dispute with a would-be voter told he was not on the rolls; he was directed to the precinct official across the room from where we were seated, so we followed. She did not want us present and told us to go back to our seats. I had the State Board of Election rules and tried to show her that we were entitled to observe the electoral process, and that the resolution of a dispute was part of that process.

Before we could say anything else, another official jumped up and started shouting at us to go to our seats. When we tried deferentially and quietly to respond to him, he just kept yelling "I can't hear you. My ears are clogged up. Now go to your seats!" We retreated but both of us (and the women observers who were still present and looking on in horror) agreed we would file a complaint about this poll worker (which we did). (My female cohorts at the site especially were encouraging and supportive of standing up to the officials and making the complaints.)

Later, our objections about not being part of the process were raised with the State Board of Elections (and I was told, with the Attorney General and Governor's Office), all of whom agreed that we should be allowed to hear the process going on. The Electoral Board member returned to the site to so inform us.

One small victory for transparency.

Of course no one in Carver was trying to prevent voting, but in any bureaucracy, people just want an issue resolved, regardless of the outcome (whether or not the voter gets to vote). My charge was to make sure that each voter entitled to a vote would get to vote either straightforwardly or provisionally. The Republican told me he was there to ensure that there were no double votes and no people voting who were not entitled to vote. He also was quite irate if someone had an out of state license and still got to vote (if you didn't have valid in-state identification, you could sign an affidavit saying you are who you say you are). "They only get 30 days to change their license," he insisted, although I rejoined that no one in the precinct was authorized to enforce the DMV law.

So it went for 13 hours that the poll was open. If there were situations I thought I could resolve (when the person was being sent elsewhere), I went outside and interacted with them, showing them the Board of Elections' rules so hopefully they could defend their right to cast a ballot as in situations, for example, where a voter was returning an unused absentee ballot.

Mid-day, I took a break to go vote in my own precinct - Recreation - and to drive by a couple of other precincts where I dropped off cookies for Democratic precinct workers and greeted old friends and new. At Jefferson Park, I briefly joined in the citizen-led traffic directions before the police arrived to thankfully take over.

I was at Carver when it closed at 7 pm and the results were heartening: Perriello, 977 and Hurt, 139. Later we saw high margins for Perriello in the rest of the City, but ultimately Hurt won by approximately 10,000 votes.

The election outcome was not what I desired, but all in all, I had a good day of watching the democratic process at work and staying alert to make the process transparent, and hopefully making sure everyone got his/her opportunity to cast a ballot and have a voice in this election.

Now, if I can only hold on to my image of this "beloved community" of Charlottesville and find other ways to help make our town an even better place for all of us to live together and prosper.

PS: At the end of the day, the shouting official told me that he had not meant to alarm us, and I and the other poll watcher reiterated that he had acted inappropriately but that in the end, our view had been vindicated by the State Board. And I responded: "But apology is accepted." Sphere: Related Content