As I sit down to write this, The Kerry campaign is conceding victory to George Bush in the 2004 Presidential election. While I have reasonably strong feelings about this, it’s not what I’m about to talk about. Though, I will; probably at great length.
Instead, I’m going to ramble about 2 November 2004 in Cleveland, OH. Or, at least, I’m going to ramble about what I saw, and what I thought.
Yesterday, I woke up at 4AM, showered, put on my Election Protection t-shirt, and drove out to one of two EP centers in Cleveland. There were a few logistical issues, like the person who was having a seizure on our front steps, the fact that they sent me to the wrong EP center, and the organizer who wanted to set me up with his Malayalee girlfriend’s sister (I respectfully declined).
After helping a few teams get their things together (toy box, signs, chairs), my partner and I drove over to the HQ where we were needed. Everything proceeded smoothly from there. We drove out to our polling place, stuck our signs in the ground, and met the people from the Voter Protection Team (sponsored by the DNC), and East Cleveland Pastors for Progress.
The day was rainy and fairly wet. Of all the groups out there, we were the only nonpartisan one — not that it made a difference. The only republicans we saw were GOP challengers, and they just took notes.
We made a good team: while we came from a variety of organizations, we all helped ensure that people were able to vote. The other people came from as far away as NY. My partner was a school teacher in his everyday life. He managed to be so liberal, that NPR was a bit too far to the right for him. The people from the DNC included a Columbia law professor, her high school daughter, and another NY lawyer. We were rounded out by a few representatives from East Cleveland Pastors for Progress: a nice young law student who was planning on spending some time in Honduras after the election.
Making friends is a strange thing in circumstances like that. Everyone was there for the whole day, and we traded information, and services. We ganged up on the booth officials when we thought they were doing something wrong, we split duties (some of us calling to confirm precincts for voters, others calling for rides), we traded information from our various organizations, and we brought each other coffee and snacks and chairs.
Watching the various groups work was a pleasure: they tracked voter turnout, and sent people canvassing if numbers were low. They coordinated rides, provided legal advice, confirmed polling locations, and enforced election law.
What made it most interesting though was the voters. Almost everyone who came through was pumped to be voting. Our oft-heard “if there are any problems, please come see us” was often answered with, “Oh, you’ll hear about it all right!” or (our personal favorite), “There won’t be any problems. I’ll see to it!”
We had a woman come in with her son and daughter, both of whom had voted earlier in the day: The mother did not walk to well, so they had come to help her vote. We informed them that, by law, she was permitted to vote from her car if that would be easier for her. The son, a large (6’4″ or 6’5″, and barrel-chested) man bent down to ask his mother if she’d prefer to vote in the car. She was pleased as punch! We spoke to the presiding judge, who was reluctant. She finally gave way under our combined insistence. I don’t think I’d ever seen someone so happy. She came, she sat, she voted: and we helped make that experience more comfortable for her.
We had other people who had trouble finding their place on the ballots. One such woman came out of the precinct with her sister, unhappy. We let her know we could provide assistance, either in confirming her registration, or ensuring that her provisional ballot was correctly filed. She went back in to straighten things out, while her sister waited outside. It was (as I’ve no doubt mentioned) cold and rainy: I shielded the sister with my umbrella, and listened to her talk: she might have been old, but she was fiesty! After 20 or so minutes of her telling me how no one would interfere with her voting, she looked up at me and said, “how tall do you think I am?” I replied that I thought she must’ve been 4’11” or 5′. She retorted, “I wish! I don’t normally tell people, but I’m 4’3!”
Another 20 minutes of her listening to me counsel voters, and she remarked, “You have a very pretty voice.” It is a good thing I don’t blush.
To say the least, I enjoyed the fact that East Cleveland came out in force to vote, and in record numbers: In the 2000 election, this particular polling station reported 389 voters. This time, over 800 of them turned out. It was like that all over cleveland: young, middle-aged, old, infirm, carefree. They were gung ho, and ready to make their voice heard.
I might not be happy with the outcome of the election, but I’m proud of what I saw at St. James Lutheran Church, East Cleveland, OH. I was proud of the Americans who came out to vote, and I was proud to ease the voting process for them.
that’s really cool. i was sad this morning when they were saying cuyahoga county didn’t have that great of a turnout (a few percent better than 4 years ago, but not as high as predicted), but it’s reassuring that in east cleveland, a place with a lot of poverty and where life can be very rough, so many people were able to make time to get their voices heard.
That’s beautiful, Vinay. I hope all the people who worked hard on this election don’t disappear into the woodwork until 2008.