Keeping Up with the Jonzee

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Facing Changes

November 4th, Way too early in the morning...

I awoke at 4:30am-- bleary eyed and exhausted. I could not sleep the night before. I was anxious. I was nervous, and even though I truly believed that the change, I and millions of others had worked on, donated to, and prayed for, was on its way, the idea that we might lose would not let me sleep.

I sat on the edge of my bed and prayed. Then, I put on my objective election judge hat and walked in silence to the polling place—my polling place—to do my day long civic duty of working the polls. The silence was nearly deafening and I wanted to cry, but I did not. However, unbeknownst to me, this same feeling would return several times through out the day.

5:30 AM

I arrive on time, but it feels like I am late. There is a buzz about the place as the chief judge directs the technician, and other judges to set up certain stations to count and keep record of every single supply we have been given. She also reiterates the importance of the integrity of our polling place. All eyes are on us she says, more than anytime in the 7 years she has been a chief. Nervous looks abound, and back to business we go.

Although, the polls do not open until 7 am, and our 1400 people district in a neighborhood is one of the smallest in the city (and in a transitioning neighborhood on the edge of gentrification with historically low turnout at 30%), our first voter is already in the building, and had been since 5 am. She is a middle aged black woman who has arrived prepared to wait with a folding chair, newspaper, coffee, and breakfast in hand.

7:00 AM

My fears that people would stay home because they believed the election was already in the bag combined with the intermittent nasty rain falling outside, made for an interesting morning. As we were opening the doors—more than 100 people were already in line. My eyes swelled, but no tears.

8:00 AM

I am stationed at the provisional ballot station. Here, people who for one reason or another are not in the ballot book, or who registered within 7 days prior to the election, must fill out a paper ballot. My first “customers” are three black men—two of them, both middle aged, had never voted. Both of them were quite knowledgeable about how the election process worked and what their rights were. The other, was an older man, and a life long Republican. Each of them was proudly wearing a “change you can believe in” button—and none of them knew each other.

On the way out of the door, the two men who voted for the first time shared the news with the ballot desk—and a spontaneous cheer broke out. From that point forward, every first timer got a little cheer from the judges.

10:30 AM

An elderly woman walking gingerly with one hand on her cane and the other wrapped in the arms of a young woman in her 30’s. The elderly woman informs us that she is here to help her oldest grandchild vote for the first time. The grandmother has already voted on the other side of town.

A couple arrives right behind them—clearly high and drunk—barely able to communicate anything clearly—accept that they have arrived to vote.

12:00 PM

A young black family with three children under the age of 5 and one newborn arrive. Each parent brings two of the children up to the voting machine and explains the voting process. They even let them press the buttons.

2:00 PM

The line has stopped. Forty percent of our precinct has already voted, and we have 6 more hours left to remain open.

A young white family arrives—dressed in all of the Obama regalia they could find—including the dog. They tell us they just returned from early morning volunteering in Alexandria, VA. The wait when they left was 2.5 hours long.

3:45 PM

Several young men, who I often see hanging on the corner, and I have long suspected of (and have seen) selling drugs arrive in a group to vote. Nearly half of them have voted before. Two tell me they never miss an election—even if it’s just local. One apologizes for handling his business in front of my house.

I meet people I have never seen on my block before, and see folks I often see, but have never introduced myself too. Now, I know them all and they know me.

5:30 PM

Voting is now down to a trickle. Some of the judges are spending the downtime calling up relatives and friends making sure they went to vote. One judge in particular is harassing his 18 year old cousin who just arrived to vote. She is telling his cousin to go back home and get his friends—all who were personally registered by the judge. Fifty-eight percent of our precinct has voted.

7:57 PM

All day, we have braced ourselves for the call, which would inform us that our polling place had extended voting hours. Three minutes to go, and no call. As I prepare to break down the ballot booth station, a man clearly out of breath from running is walking as quickly as he can down the hall.

I tell him that he has gotten to me in the nick of time. However, he was in the wrong polling place, which means if he votes here, it will have to be on paper, and it may very well not count.

He says in return, “M’am, I just want to know that I filled in that circle. I took two buses and ran here to just get in the door. I can not vote—even if it may not amount to anything.”

This time, I cried!

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