Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Election Day Story

Two days after this historic victory for President Barack Obama, people are still talking about What It All Means. We’re hearing a lot from folks on the left about how emotional it was to vote in this election; Nashville blogger Sharon Cobb recorded her thoughts, offering this sentiment:
I was so overcome with emotion before going to vote, when I voted and after I voted, I decided not to show everyone everywhere what a complete sentimental old fool I am. The above tape is bad enough.

Meanwhile, folks on the right, still licking their wounds, are pointing fingers at the American people with such harsh indictments as

this election was about one thing and one thing only: Americans’ puerile need for unity through self-congratulatory, cathartic membership in a broad, transformative political movement.

A conservative friend told me he feels sorry for African Americans who

voted for Obama because of race. He is a weak sister who will not represent their hopes well.

I've read similar thoughts from conservative bloggers around the internet, although I’d counter that Obama has already fulfilled African American hopes simply by winning the presidency.

All of this being a long preamble to my election day story. I was a poll watcher for the Obama campaign this year (actually, my official permit said I was a poll watcher for Barack Obama, which made me feel pretty darn special). In our training they told us about ID requirements, told us most of the time we'd simply run into poll workers who didn't know the law on what identification is required to vote, and that most poll officials are good people who are just trying to keep the lines moving.

That was definitely my experience. They also told us if we do see a problem, we aren’t supposed to talk directly to voters, but must address all of our questions or comments to the poll workers and poll officials. That was a little odd because it felt like you were talking over someone, but it worked.

Mostly I learned that being a poll watcher is pretty boring. At every poll location I visited, turnout was light and everything went smoothly because at least 50% of the voters had already early voted.

I can say there was just one instance where my being at a poll made the difference between someone being allowed to vote or not. She was an elderly African American woman, probably in her 90s, and she just melted my heart. She could barely walk but here she toddled up to the poll to do her duty as a citizen. I thought, what a great day this must be for her.

She said she had been on her way to the store and realized she hadn’t voted yet today, but she didn't have her ID with her. The poll worker pleaded with her to go home and get her ID and come back. But it was already dark by this time, her ankles hurt badly, she was afraid she just didn’t have it in her to go home and then come back to vote.

That’s when she mentioned she was on her way to the store to cash a check. Oh, I told the poll worker, if the check has her name and address on it, that’s a valid form of ID. Sure enough it did; the poll captain checked it all out and she was able to vote.

I was feeling very proud of myself, imagining what a big day it must be for a 90-something year old African American woman to have the opportunity to vote for a black man for President.

That’s when this lady mentioned her eyesight was so bad she needed assistance to vote. So a poll worker read the ballot aloud to her: “Barack Obama for the Democratic Party and John McCain for the Republican Party,” he said (leaving of all of the other candidates, I might add ...)

The lady said: “Oh, what’s the difference! They’re all the same, aren’t they? You pick one.”


The poll worker said, “No ma’am, I can’t do that. You have to pick one.”

The lady said, “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter.”

I have no idea which button she pushed but I promptly went outside and applied a brick to my skull ... repeatedly.

All of which just proves that one person’s broad, transformative political movement is another person’s annoying errand on the way to the grocery store.