Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Battleground Report from CO

Since it was clear Idaho's electoral votes would go to McCain, I volunteered in a battleground state and traveled to Colorado. I wasn't sure what to expect - I don't consider myself a Democrat but I am an Obama supporter, and all my previous political experience has been in the Republican Party. As a lawyer, I volunteered for "Voter Protection," which meant being familiar with Colorado election law and making sure that people had the right to vote, were not turned away from the polls or intimidated, and addressing voter problems and irregularities.

The training I attended was impressive - about 400 lawyers were present, the majority of whom were from out of state and had come, like me, to lend a hand where it might matter. The organization was impressive. There was to be a lawyer inside and outside each polling place, with the CO lawyers inside and the out of state volunteer lawyers outside. Central command stations with CO election lawyer specialists were available all day by phone with roving teams to address issues. In addition, each polling place was to have a volunteer to assist voters in finding their polling place, including a hotline to call, maps and lists of precincts and polling places and locations accepting mail in ballots via dropoff. Plus, there would be a person in each polling place checking off voters as they voted, and runners picking that info up and then getting it back to HQ for the get out to vote effort of callers and door knockers. IN ADDITION (yes, I kid you not) there would be "comfort teams" providing food and water and magazines to voters in long lines so they did not get discouraged and leave. I thought that was a really ambitious plan - at least 6 volunteers per polling place. I doubted the ability of the campaign to actually achieve that, especially with two lawyer volunteers per place.

I looked around at the nearly 400 lawyers at my training - and when they said it was the 8th training like that held, I was duly impressed. I was assigned a polling place in Araphaoe County that served three precincts. I knew the higher priority precincts were in downtown Denver so I assumed if resources would be cut it would be in an area like mine. But wow, was I ever in for a surprise. There were THREE lawyers, five runners, three poll checkers. People brought us food and water all day long. There was not a shortage of volunteers - if anything there was an excess!! It was exciting and impressive. The organization was intense. And, I felt like my efforts did end up mattering - I was able to assist a number of voters with all sorts of issues, and sitting in the cold from 6:30 am to 7:05pm was totally and completely worth it.

The GOTV (Get Out the Vote) effort was incredible. My nephew who lives here was at the polls when they opened at 7:00am. By 8:00 he had a phone call from the campaign and by 8:30 they knocked on his door. Two more phone calls before 10am, when they clearly got the result that he voted from their poll checkers as they stopped contact after that. Clearly a machine working well.

I felt good about voter protection because it means helping all people have access to the ballot regardless of the person they are voting for. Clearly, the Obama campaign expected that more people having trouble voting would support him than McCain but the training was clear: prevent NO ONE from voting, help EVERYONE have access to the ballot box, challenge NO PERSON's right to vote, protect EVERYONE from challenges from others, allow NO voter intimidation. I truly believe if you can't win fighting fair you don't deserve to win - and I was thrilled to see this attitude throughout the Obama campaign. Every single volunteer at my polling place was polite, courteous and helpful to people of both parties - including those who self-identified as Republicans. Never did I see one single sign of disrespect from the Democrats to the other side - instead I saw offers of assistance to the handicapped, help handling issues, etc. Everyone was optimistic about Obama but firmly committed to letting everyone have their say - and I could not have been more pleased. The group at my polling place were all white middle class Obama supporters. I am pleased to say the voters were much more diverse - young, old and minorities of many types. It was really, really cool to see the turnout.

I was exceedingly disappointed in the conduct of the Republican election Judge in charge. She was highly partisan, bitter and mean and totally unfair at every turn, enjoying a power trip not well deserved. Several of the Republican election judges were entirely appropriate, friendly, and non partisan, as were the Democrats. But the one Republican "in charge" was vile. There were no McCain volunteers presents except one who dropped in during the day briefly and one McCain legal team member who stopped by late in the day. The rules were not evenly enforced as the Democrats were not allowed to use cell phones in the building but the Republicans were. Any time the legal team inside observed a challenge or tried to ensure ballot access and not allow voter intimidation (ie the head Judge sitting at a table WHILE a voter is voting, looking over their shouder) they were told they were "impeding" and threatened with being ejected and having the police called on them. I personally saw the abuses of the Judge - and to my great pleasure, the utterly appropriate response of the legal team - not fighting over petty issues, treating her like a crqazy Judge in Court and being deferential but making sure the people got the right to vote.

Even at my "dull" polling place compared to many in the country, there were a lot of issues and I feel like my work and time were worthwhile. I was really pleased to be a part of something I believe in, and though the difference I made was tiny and the volunteering I did small compared to many, it was a great expereince. I was disheartened by the hateful and bitter conduct of some McCain supporters and I think McCain himself wouldn't have approved. He gave a GREAT concession speech - we finally saw the old McCain again, the one who is moderate and reasonable and a public servant, not the petty, negative, crappy campaigner of the last few months.

I loved Obama's acceptance speech as well. I am pleased to report that in addition to "the new regime" there is more good news - the ballot measure in California to require more humane confinement of animals passed. Another step in the right direction!!!

I, like so many other Americans, begin this new day with new hope, new enthusiasm, and a renewed commitment to participating in the process. I am encouraged to see so much participation nationwide and such a great turnout. If Americans can STAY ENGAGED, what can we not accomplish?? It is a happy day. And, CO went for Obama - and he earned it.

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