Hello, friends! I have surfaced at last!
Alexis, I was indeed busy before election day. I had my last Obama phone-calling party the Thursday before, where we ran one last time through our list of undecided voters. I can say that Geoff was absolutely right when he pointed out that some people ought just to stay away from the voting booth. In this last run-through, I got some people who barely spoke English-- I hope they can read-- but didn't seem to understand my question. ("Obama or McCain?") I got some who had just given up on taking any active part in the course of affairs, who apparently decided it's time to lie down and die because, well, why not? We'll all die one day anyway. I got some really slow people who really didn't know which end was up (I have a slightly impaired nephew-in-law who taught me a lot about this-- great kid but he really doesn't have the mental power to form an opinion, and always ends up agreeing with whoever talked to him last). There were the sad people tortured by their religion, who were afraid to vote their conscience because their priest told them they would go to hell if they voted for Obama, but couldn't see how ongoing wars, poverty, and sickness were at all supportive of a "right to life".
One of the most fascinating things about being involved in the canvassing effort was talking to so many types of people, from staunch Republicans and Libertarians to true Socialists, hearing their views and seeing the conversation shift over time. I really felt as if I could appreciate what was going on in a lot of people's minds this time through.
But what really kept me busy before election day was that I was (finally, only a week before) selected as an election judge. I put my name into the hat for "troubleshooter", which meant I had to support the electronic voting machines and computers (both strong suits for me), but also fill in as needed for any of the other judging positions, from verifying ID and getting them a provisional ballot if needed, to handling poll watchers and protesters (both of which our vote center had). So I jumped into training and learned a lot about our election process from the inside-- the checks and balances built into each step of the process, and how you could cheat (which I informed my fellow judges about, which shocked them)-- but it would be hard to pull off because you have so many witnesses (especially those poll watchers; we had 4 in our center alone). But it was very cool to see how earnest the effort was to protect people's votes, and get the right results back to the main location.
I had a blast. The day before, the other troubleshooter judge and I set up and tested the 24 machines at our center, while the supervisor set up the rest of the site (the forms, statements of rights, reference books, etc.) The IT guys set up the computers for the 8 pollbook judges. Setup took us about 8 hours, then it was home for a short night of sleep, up at 4:30 in the morning to verify all the security seals on all the equipment again, run more tests, and finally open our doors 2 minutes before 7, because we were ready. What a great way to spend the day! I was running around to all the stations, answering questions, escorting people who needed to enter or exit for some reason, helping resolve computer issues, on and on.
My favorite by far were the first-time voters. We had one young man whose machine canceled his vote on him (I postulated the sunlight on the screen had warmed the hidden "cancel" key, and the computer war room agreed with me and made a note for future setups). So we gave him a new machine out of the sun, but he took so long reading the ballot issues the machine timed out. The third time (after we reset his card through headquarters once again), he finally comes out with this smile and his face, and we judges all broke out into cheers and applause. The voters signing in jumped, looking startled, then started grinning, while the young man exited with a bounce in his step. We were a happy
We had some protesters, as I mentioned, but they were extremely polite and well-mannered. We had the most complaints from the "Abortion" guy, an implant from Connecticut (because they couldn't find any local protesters?). He had a gory sign, but he turned it away whenever any kids came by. He was also instructed not to speak to any of the voters, and he abided by that. The union guys were more aggressive, but once we established the "free speech" zone (100 feet away) they were fine. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, inside the building and out. There was an energy humming in the air. This is how an election should be!
I was surprised we didn't have more voters. We had a big wave in the morning, a steady trickle all day, and two post-work waves. I found out during the course of the day that 75% of my county had voted early or by mail. In the end, we boasted over a 90% turn-out rate. Incredible! I'm so proud of us.
After the last voter was out, we locked the doors and did our ballot processing. It all involves a lot of keys and signatures by witnesses and locking paper ballots, machine printouts, and computer chips into sealed bags or metal boxes, and publicly posting a copy of the results in the window so no one can sneakily alter the ballots on the way in. The crew I was working with were great, and we had the place broken down and locked up by 9 PM. I went to mail the official count to the county (another check, so someone couldn't alter the paperwork) while the supervisor took the official ballots to the collection center. He said we were the first district to report in. Yay! So I walked in the door shortly after 9 knowing nothing, and found a message on my answering machine from my buddy Rick, left 4 minutes earlier. He sounded exhausted. "We did it." I hadn't seen a TV or election result all night, but there it was: the good answer, awaiting me as I walked in the door.
So I jumped in the car and went to his house, where he was watching the returns with his family. Rick and I have been precinct leaders all through the horrible Bush years; he's got the one next to mine, and we switch off canvassing and volunteer lists. Year by year we've been chipping away at the stubborn Republican prejudice that still made people believe, despite all the evidence, that George Bush was a competent president. Colorado went overwhelmingly blue this time-- we have 2 Dem senators, a Dem governor, a Dem-controlled state legislature, and made further gains in the House-- including throwing out that embarrassing Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado's own Sarah Palin, who was rated #23 in the entire Congress (out of 458 ) for corruption. (see http://www.progressiveliving.org/politics/best_worst_american_politicians/best_worst_american_politicians.htm
I got there in time for the acceptance speech. Rick and I sat with tears pouring down our faces. It was so huge, so terrific-- I was very moved. When Obama told his young daughters they had earned that puppy, Rick's youngest son decided this was his cue to ask for a car. (Answer: no).
It was a great night, a great evening.
The next day I finished my election judging, packing the equipment and having it carted away. People were still
in a good mood, everybody smiling. America feels good about itself again. I feel our standing has been restored not only in the world, but with ourselves. We did a good thing.
I went home and fell into the internet to catch up, and have only now surfaced. It feels great to have witnessed history in action, and contributed in whatever way I could. It will be exciting to see what the future holds. I hope this wonderful energy that we've generated goes forward into productive effort. There's so much to repair and make better. But we've already begun, just by believing we can. It's a good beginning.