Sunday, November 02, 2008

Election Special

We interrupt regularly scheduled material to bring you this special report from the front lines of early voting in a pivitol swing state ... "Florida, Florida, Florida ..."

Yesterday (Saturday 11/01) my wife and I finally voted early, helping to clear the decks for what we hope will be an unprecedented turnout on election day. It meant standing in line for over three hours, keeping company with thousands of other dedicated citizens who similarly felt that yes, it was that important. But what made it all worth while for me was seeing it through the eyes of our eight-year-old grandson, Vincent.

This is the first election he's been aware of in his short life, so he is not jaded as we are by decades of cynicism and dashed hopes -- not to mention stolen elections in the recent past. So his optimism knows no bounds. About the nearest thing to doubt that I've heard him express was the poignant question, "Do you think we'll win?"

Far be it for me to pour water on his enthusiasm. I told him I thought we would, but that it probably would be close and we would have to work very hard to make it happen.

I can tell you that if Mr. Obama does not win, it will not be through any lack of effort on Vincent's part. He made signs, participated in honk-and-wave events, and walked into a local campaign office and insisted that they give him something to do. (He sorted snacks to be given out to volunteers, and remade a poster for them on his home computer.) When the yard sign in front of his house was stolen, he made sure it was replaced with a new one.

We thought it only fitting to invite him to come along with us to vote. Accompanied by his even younger sister, he showed himself equal to the test of the long wait. Both kids found ways to occupy their time, and never once asked to be taken home.

The line we were in snaked around three sides of the Coral Gables library, and the wait was about an hour on each side. During this time we received the attentions of a number of people soliciting votes, or urging action on one of the ballot initiatives and State constitutional amendments that are also up for grabs.

I noted an interesting difference between the Obama supporters and those from the dark side. The Obama people quietly worked their way down the line offering stickers, bottles of water, and anything else they could think of that might be helpful. There were quite a few of them, and they had an enormous mountain of bottled water on hand, far more than was needed for this day.

The Opposition was represented by a couple of small groups carrying mostly handmade signs of questionable effectiveness. What do you make of this one: "If you think medical care is expensive now, just wait till it's free!"

Well, I think we see where they're going with this ... that we will all have to pay more if we want to provide coverage to those who don't have it. But doesn't it sound like a good thing if it was free? What if it was at least freely available, regardless of cost?

Another example was, "This is your change if you vote for Obama." It showed a profile of Obama replacing Lincoln on the penny. Again, we get the rather pointed message that a penny is all we'll have left after the spendthrift Democrats have had their way. But I kind of thought he looked good on that coin, and the comparison to Lincoln was both complimentary and historically resonant.

But the McCain camp followers were not content to insult our intelligence with idiotic signage. There was another pair of guys who went for street theater. One of them carried a sign that declared he was a "third generation Democrat voting No-Obama." His cohort had a "plumber's friend" or drain plunger stuck in his belt (he's Joe the Plumber, GET IT??) and accosted the captive audience to deliver what he called a "lecture." This consisted of using the plunger to point to another sign on the back of an SUV, this one written in black markers on a quilted silver sun screen, that said, "Obama=Welfare, McCain=Jobs." End of lecture. Short and sweet enough for you? But haven't we heard this somewhere before?

Half an hour later as we approached the final corner of the building he upped the ante. Now a new sign equated Obama with Fidel Castro -- both of them Marxists! Well, now we know, and the cat is finally out of the bag. But the best part of this was the spontaneaous response from the crowd.

A tall Latino man gave them a well-deserved fascist salute, which brought a McCain-style burst of anger from the Plumber. You're not an American, he shouted, you don't love your country, you should move to Canada, etc, etc. Our Latin hero got into it with him. Why should he have to leave the country? Back and forth. A concerned poll watcher intervened and counseled calm when a passing maintenance worker (picking up all those empty water bottles) got into the fray on the Obama side..

I was framing my own response, perhaps, "Hey, we're all Americans here," or even better, "Oye, todos somos Americanos aqui," but I was beaten to the punch by a young woman with less writer's block who simply raised her own sign and shouted, "Obama!" Delightfully, a big section of the line took up the cheer, probably not the reaction desired by the Plumber, who became somewhat more subdued.

Things were quiet after that. We soon passed the orange cone at the 50-foot barrier to proselytizing, and then finally gained access to the inner sanctum of American politics. Groups of ten were ushered into the room where an amazingly dedicated group of poll workers ran a smooth operation already more than two hours after closing time.

As we went I explained what was happening to Vincent. First they looked me up in the computer to make sure I was a registered voter, then I signed in to prove it was me, then they printed a customized ballot with my correct precincts and municipal choices on it. A very patient man delivered for the thousandth time that day a clear explanation of how many pages I had, how to make my selection, and what to do when finished. He was not Hispanic, but I noted he was equally capable of delivering his speech en espanol when it was called for.

At last we were alone together in front of the ballot in the small cube of private space allowed. And Vincent himself filled in the small circle beside the candidate of his choice.

He was so excited he actually held his hand over his mouth so he wouldn't SCREAM. This is a child who does not hope ... he knows that we can make a better world, and he knows that this is something he can do.

Would you tell him he's wrong or misguided to be so naive? Me neither.

[Sunday Update: We drove past the library twice on Sunday and saw the line was about 50% longer than the day before, extending around the fourth side of the building almost back to the entrance, and indicating a wait time of about 6 hours, which was later confirmed by news reports. But people were not leaving! An hour after the 5 PM closing time the line was still as long.]

[Monday Update: Local NPR news reports well over 300,000 votes cast early in Miami-Dade County alone, and an additional 140,000 absentee ballots already received. WOO-HOO!]

[Tuesday Update: Election day at last! I passed three polling places on my way to work and saw lines that were less than half a block long, indicating perhaps an hour wait. It would appear the turnout is heavy as predicted, but manageable. Of course it depends on how many people are waiting till the last minute, but it seems that early voting has helped.]

[Tuesday 10 AM: What a difference a few hours makes -- lines are growing, turnout is HUGE -- this is the closest thing we've seen to full participation by the electorate in living memory. Once again, WOO-HOO!]

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