Saturday, November 08, 2008

Election Day in Ward 64

The woman had already voted, but she came back in the voting place in near-panic. She was off in another part of the room talking in serious hushed tones, first to the election workers, then to the coordinator, who brought her over to me. "Could you talk to this woman and see if you can answer her question?" she asked.

With a look of concern deep and serious, the near-elderly woman looked at me and told me the story: "I just filled out the ballot and voted for all the candidates I wanted," she began. "But I just noticed on the way out that there were these other questions on the ballot. I forgot to vote on them." She was talking about the sick-leave and sales-tax referendums. Then came her question: "Will my vote count?"

Usually, I try to shade my legal advice in "probably" and "in all likelihood", but I was pretty sure about this one and she needed reassurance. "Yes, your vote will count. You don’t have to vote in every issue on the ballot. You could have just voted for one candidate and left the rest blank, and that one vote would still count." Her furrowed brow relaxed and the frown left her face. She left feeling better than when she came in. Her vote would be counted. That was all that mattered to her that day.

And so it went on Election Day in Milwaukee’s Ward 64 polling place, inside Mitchell Court, a high-rise apartment building for the disabled on 26th and National. From 6:30 that morning to 8 that night, I watched the miracle of democracy unfold before me. All day long, the usually powerless streamed through the crowded room and flexed the muscles of their franchise; seriously, proudly and often joyfully voting in an election that meant something to them, to their children, to their community. Kings and Queens for a day, they stood in short lines, patiently filled out forms, firmly cast their ballots and then returned to their lives of hard work and daily struggles.

The complex tapestry of Milwaukee diversity was on full display. Young and old; disabled and fully-functional; black, white, Latino, Asian; families and the lonely – all came in to cast one vote out of a hundred-thousand in Milwaukee; of 3 million in Wisconsin; of 122 million in the nation. Very few of those voting in Ward 64 spend one-tenth of the time I or any of my readers do on considering the deep issues of the day. But there they were, determined to have their say on the one day of the year that anyone has to listen to them.

I was there as part of the Obama Voter Protection team, designed to make sure everyone eligible got a chance to vote. There was little to worry about in this polling place. The election workers were helpful and friendly to each other, to us observers, and to everyone who came in. One of the workers worked in the building and cheerfully greeted and assisted the residents in getting their vote counted. If the machine didn’t take the ballot (usually because of overvotes – voting for more than one candidate in a race), the voter was quickly given another ballot and got it right the second time.

The ward did a brisk walk-up business all day long. It seemed almost half of the voters ended up at the same-day registration table, either because they had recently moved or were voting for the first time. They came in prepared, clutching their utility bills with their new address in one hand and their small children in the other. The election workers were knowledgeable about the law and carefully made sure the eligible were able to receive their precious ballots. Only a couple of disappointed people were turned away because they had no documentation of their new address and no one to vouch for them, but not before every legal possibility was explored to get them a ballot.

I tried to imagine what it would be like without same-day registration – hundreds of eligible voters turned away because of recent moves or because the election commission screwed up their registration somehow. Many people came to the tables with photo ID in hand, but what would happen if photo ID was required and the election workers would have to turn away so many of those who were otherwise perfectly qualified? Photo ID would turn the exercise of democracy into a grim game of gotcha – a presumption of disqualification unless proved otherwise, instead of the other way around. There wasn’t anyone who voted that day who was not eligible, but hundreds who would have been turned away with Photo ID or without same-day registration. The roadblocks that some would put in the way of so many of those who earnestly and honestly showed up to vote in Ward 64 are a violation of the spirit of democracy in Wisconsin.

After a steady flow of voters all day, we braced for an evening rush that never materialized. Perhaps because of early voting, there was a mere trickle in the last hours. On the TV out in the lobby at 7 p.m., NBC was already projecting Pennsylvania for Obama when one excited voter left the polling place chanting "O-bam-a". It was the only outburst of a day when the celebration was more subdued, but deeply felt.

At the end of the night, I called in the final numbers to the campaign: 573 to 106 for Obama in Ward 64. In this small slice of Milwaukee and throughout the country, the people had their say, one vote at a time.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since you oppose any form of Voter ID, why require anything at all? Why not support completely open voting where you can just go in on the day of election, tell them a name and address and vote? No utility bill, no person to "vouch" for you, nothing. If presenting ID is such a hardship, then why not make it even easier?

Mike Plaisted said...

I know you're not serious, but the answer is an appropriate balance has been struck in the law. If you can find one person who was ineligible and voted anyway, turn them in to the authorities. Otherwise, stop trying to prevent the eligible from voting by making them jump through hoops that are only designed to make it more difficult and to make it so less people vote.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps some compromise can be worked out on the issue of photo I.D. However, what cannot be compromised is registration at the polls. This is what makes the franchise real to so many people who otherwise would be disenfranchised.

Senator Feingold is to be commended for his efforts to make same-day registration a national reality.

Anonymous said...

Yes I am being serious...if you need no ID and can have someone "vouch" for you or for a group of people, why not toss that out too? There is no balance as it currently stands.

It's 2008, not 1908. Providing proof of identification in 1908 would be a hardship that most wouldn't have. We allow computerized voting machines, touch screens, etc...but yet we'll take someone else vouching for me when I have absolutely no proof of who I am and where I live.

And yes I know someone who voted twice just to prove that it could be done, and with relative ease. Why should I turn them in? Shouldn't the system work and one of their votes not be counted and they potentially be prosecuted?

Sean said...

Anon 11:01: What? There was voter fraud??? You're telling me that someone or some people were able to circumvent the system and vote illegally? Impossible.

All sarcasm aside, I too know of duplicate voting, and the ease of which it was done, and the utter lack of ability for it to be prosecuted, much less caught. The problem is that people like Mike want to keep their heads in the sand regarding this issue by making statements like: "What ineligible voters are you talking about? Where does this problem exist? In '04, there was one idiot (a Rebuplican) who voted in Wisconsin and Illinois. There were 13 felons on supervision who voted, and every last one has been prosecuted. In order to need a solution, there has to be a problem, and there isn't one."

I prefer to live in the real world. I prefer to have my REAL vote count and not have it be made less than whole by someone trying to sabotage the system. The way to accomplish that is to come up with a way to correctly identify eligible voters. Utility bills???? Right! People vouching for me (the most blatant and easiest way to commit fraud)??? Please... Mike and those that benefit from voter fraud use voters being disenfranchised as a reason to not have voter ID instituted in this state, but what about ME being disenfranchised? That, of course, will never be addressed, because the quote "One person, one vote" is not in the liberal vernacular. They prefer the Chicago mantra "Vote early, vote often." (and Mike if you don't get that, check the election rolls in Chicago when Kennedy won)

Other Side said...

Well, we now have two cases of voter fraud, and both likely perpetrated by conservatives to prove a point, which was real only in their fevered minds. What happened to personal responsibility and law and order?

Mike Plaisted said...

What's the easiest lie to get away with? How about "I know someone who voted twice just to prove that it could be done" or "I too know of duplicate voting"? Well, like who? Oh, they can't say because then they'll get caught. We are supposed to just trust Anony and Sean on this claim. Right.

Sean is somehow sure that I and others have somehow benefited from voter fraud. Really? Like how? One or two knuckleheads who are ineligible but vote anyway, if you can find any, are hardly a trend or part of any campaign's deliberate designs. I dare you to sit through a whole day in a polling place and find me one person who you even suspect is not an eligible voter -- and, no, I don't mean just because they have a Latino surname.

All day long on November 4th I watched honest, real people of all backgrounds cast their votes. We should celebrate that so many of the otherwise disenfranchised in our nation still think it means something to vote for their representatives.

What drives you crazy, Anony and Sean, is not that voter fraud is running rampant, because it isn't. What drives you nuts is that these poor, disabled, diverse people, with no known accomplishments in your world, have a vote and it counts just as much as yours. It's democracy that's got you down, my friends. Too bad for you.

Sean said...

Mike, how do you know they were honest real people, because they said so? Also, it's nice to know that you actually know how I feel. You are sooooo right about me because I was just thinking "I hope poor, disabled, diverse people are not voting." Oh, and that "my vote should be counted MORE than "those" people because they haven't accomplished anything that I would consider worthwhile." Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking, weird how you just entered my mind and figured that out. I guess those racist, conservative tendencies are just too much to overcome. What a joke....

Here's the thing Mike, and I believe I have mentioned this before; I want every eligible voter to get out and vote. I am disappointed in those that I know (on both sides of the aisle) that I know don't vote. It's something that I feel strongly about, since our ability to vote has been given to us because of the sacrifices of some very brave men and women over these past 2+ centuries. Because of those sacrifices, I also believe the integrity of the vote is just as important. To not realize that, turn a blind eye towards it, or worse yet not act on it flys in the face of true democracy, but I guess that's OK with you.

Mike Plaisted said...

The "integrity of the vote" is not jeopardized anywhere by anything. It's a made-up non-crisis designed to make it harder to vote for everyone. There is a presumption at the polls -- that you are who you say you are. You want a different presumption -- that you are not who you say you are until you prove otherwise. If there was some indication that significant number of people -- or anyone at all, really -- were abusing the current presumtion, then something might need to be done. But there is no indication of that WHATSOEVER.

So, since there isn't a problem looking for a solution -- rather, you have unecessary solutions without a problem -- you must be getting at something else. I think I know what it is. You can deny it all you want but, whatever the "real" reason is, anyone who would want to deny people the right to vote based on a piece of paper has something other than democracy on their minds.

Anonymous said...

Nice try Mike, but the friend that voted twice actually was a liberal who voted for Obama.

So Mike, you think everyone is honest when it comes to voting. Fine. Would you also say the same thing about paying taxes??? Would you TRUST everyone to pay their income taxes at the end of the year if we didn't have them taken out of our paychecks by our employers? Do you think 100% of Americans would pay by April 15th each year?

Mike Plaisted said...

Yeah, right. I'm a little concerned about your imaginary liberal friends putting themselves at risk of a felony conviction and prison in a "bet I can get away wiht it" stunt. You know "trying to show I can get away with it" is not a defense, don't you?

One thing we do know is that people will cheat on their taxes if it's easy. Despite your undocumented blather, there is no such proof that a significant number of people are doing the same thing with their vote. There is a difference between finanical transactions and responsibilities and the civic exercise of a vote. One has to do with money; the other with democracy. It should be easy to vote and hard to cheat on your taxes.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I cheat on my taxes every year and get away with it and so do liberal friends of mine. And I'm willing to bet that you have in the past and never gotten caught.

Voting fraud is easy, it's easy to vote in two precincts when you're listed in two places and no one knows who you are nor are you required to prove who you are. It's equally easy to have someone else "vouch" for me, how would anyone be wiser?

Come on Mike, enough with this. You know it's easy to vote more than once. You assume that the people who are caught voting illegally represent ALL cases of illegal voting but the truth is it's only a fraction.

Do they catch every single drunk driver, speeder, drug user, drug dealer, tax evador, or parking scofflaw? Of course not, don't be silly Mike.

Sean said...

Wait a minute, you believe everyone coming to the polls are telling you the truth, but yet two people tell you that they know of duplicate voting and you DON'T believe them?!? Must be convenient to accept one person's word and not another just to make your arguments.

Also, you admit that people will cheat on their taxes if "it's easy", but you're making the assumption that people won't do it when they're voting, when it's WAAAAAYYYY easier? Ahhhhh, such blissful naivete.

patrick said...

I'm sure you noted with great interest the announcement of the 51 year-old woman Edna Byrd? who confessed that she voted for Obama twice. The DA--a democrat--decided not to charge her. Now there's a shocker.