Friday, November 05, 2004

Lost and found

We are still recovering, physically and emotionally. I find myself angrier than I was yesterday, though. I’m not sure that Bush actually won the election fair and square—isn’t it bizarre how those exit polls were totally off in those states where electronic voting is used? You don’t have to look far into that whole issue to be sickened by the fact that all 3 major companies that make electronic voting machines have major ties to right-wingers. (Some sites to check out are http://www.infernalpress.com/Columns/election.html, http://www.verifiedvoting.org, http://www.blackboxvoting.org.) If Bush did win fair and square, then that’s that. But why is there any reason to trust these private companies with our votes? Why is there any reason to think that they would be interested in being fair and in not delivering the votes for Bush? You can’t prove he didn’t steal it, since the code for the machines are kept secret. It’s a national shame that most people aren’t paying attention to. Have we lost our minds?

Sleep deprivation is a strange thing. I lost a check I was given as a bit of gratitude by the boss, though amazingly I found it on our floor shortly after I realized it was gone. I also lost an earring last night when I went to see my great aunt in Hollywood, and truly amazingly, I found it in the parking lot walking back to the car. Robert and I are wondering what I’ll lose and find next, following the common saying that things run in threes. I’m hoping we find the election victory… ha ha.

Today was my last day in the office, since I’m flying home to California tomorrow. We did what we could, though there is still a lot of work to do. You don’t wonder why 99% of the volunteers leave at or right after the election—clean up ain’t pretty. I wonder if things would have been different if we had won. Maybe more would have joined in the effort. I couldn’t help lamenting over all the work we had done that not only served no further purpose, but also had not served any purpose, really. If you believe the numbers, we never had a shot at this thing.

This afternoon we went to the mall, since the weather wasn’t good enough to go for a final boat ride. I cannot wait to get away from the humidity—though a cold front finally moved in today. I bought a big suitcase to serve in my next round of travels. It still feels strange that this chapter of my life is over. I still need time to digest it all. I am surprised, pleasantly, by how enriching the experience has been, despite the fact that we did not achieve our main objective. Participating in a losing campaign proves the old saying that life is about the journey, not the destination. I wish, as do all of you, I’m sure, that things could have turned out differently, but I don’t regret having come here. And that at least is my own mini-victory 2004.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Beat and brokenhearted

So I spoke to soon. I cannot believe that we lost. I don’t think it will sink in for a while, especially since extreme sleep deprivation has rendered my brain mush. I don’t know why I’m even attempting to stay awake, since I’m sure I could sleep for 12 hours if I decided to go to bed now.

I wanted to get something out there about my reaction, though I don’t plan to end the blog here. Like all Bush loathers, I’m shocked, devastated, and worried about where this country is headed. America has become a place that I do not understand and whose attitudes and policies I do not like. Supposedly we are free, and yet now it is possible—even likely—that the Supreme Court in the next four years will overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to pass laws that restrict or outlaw a woman’s right to chose. See those red states on the map? Imagine all the women who live there having to chose between an unwanted child and a coat hanger. Is this 2004 or 1504? Never mind the fact that Bush’s policies are hurting the environment and turning the world against us, thus increasing the likelihood that there will be some sort of global violent conflict. Bush undoubtedly interprets this win as affirmation that God wants him to be President, and that he is as infallible (does he know that word?) as he assumed he was all along. How could the majority of Americans think that Bush is right? But why do I even wonder? After all, Americans have elected some pretty yucky men to the highest office—Nixon, Regan, Bush 41. Fifty-nine million people can be wrong. I believe that history will prove that, but who knows how bloody and awful the lesson will have to be. Who knows how much all of us will suffer as a result.

Listening to Kerry’s concession remarks, I was angered by the idea that we should strive for unity. We do not agree with the Bush agenda at all—just because he got a few million more votes doesn’t mean that we should make nice. And it is political pandering for Kerry to suggest it. If I had to concede, I would confess that it breaks my heart why more Americans do not see the damage of Bush’s policies, not only to the world but to themselves. We know that Bush is lying when he says he is going to reach out to all Americans—he ran as a “uniter” last time and what did he do but ram his super-conservative agenda down all of our throats? With all due respect, Senator Kerry, I’ll keep my rancor. It’s all I have left now.

I find myself more upset about 2000 now than ever. Bush may have won this time (though do we really trust Diebold?) but he is still illegitimate in my eyes. Gore won both Florida and the popular vote last time, and he should have been President, thus Bush’s running for re-election is a result of his illegitimate accession to that office. This is why we should have fought harder in 2000. We should have taken it to the streets. I just cannot believe that with all the groups that mobilized against Bush, who must be the most hated President since Nixon, that we did not manage to defeat him. The reason why is that is a growing group of Americans that care more about denying the freedoms of women to choose and of gay people to form legal unions than anything else. This supposed “God first” agenda has essentially rendered the Democratic Party completely defunct in this country. Somehow we cannot get through to them on the economic issues because they see our secularism as off-putting. Moreover, the electoral college deters Democrats from even attempting to explain to these people how their religious beliefs are being exploited for the benefit of the rich and powerful—why bother changing anyone’s mind if you can’t change enough minds? That is the strategy that the electoral college forces upon both parties. Thus you cannot judge what appeal Kerry could have had, had he actually tried to convince all voters in the country, without regard to where they lived. It is sad to realize that some votes are worth a lot more than others. It would revolutionize elections if all votes were equal, and the presidency decided based purely on the electoral vote. The red and blue map is pretty stupid in that it implies there are no liberals in the middle of the country. This is not true—the map simply shows that they don’t have a majority. If our system wasn’t winner-take-all by state, then we could actually work on increasing support in those places. As it is now, Kerry probably never even visited many of them. What hope do we have of undoing the conservative brainwashing of America’s middle class if we automatically concede vast swaths of the country?

Cleaning out the office, as you can imagine, is sad work. I am sad not only because we lost, but because our operation was so unsatisfying on the level of organization. We did good, yes, but it wasn’t done in a manner that left unfulfilled my own craving for efficiency and order. I think I would feel better about losing if I thought we ran a tight ship. We were very wasteful, which is sad to begin with, but particularly bitter when you add the fact that it was all for naught, and is almost heartbreaking when you know that the environment will now be under siege by Bush’s policies for at least another 4 years, if not longer—you just know Jeb is going to run in 2008.

It is odd how everything we did is now irrelevant. All those preparations, the reams and reams of paper consumed by forms, flyers, campaign literature—suddenly good only for the recycling bin. The product of feverish preparations were now just detritus of the defeated.

I haven’t cried yet, but I’m not ruling it out. I think I will likely head to Europe sooner rather than later, as there is no inauguration to look forward to. (But first, I'm heading home to California for a visit.) So many volunteers are saying they are going to leave the country. I wonder if we could see a noticeable anti-Bush ex-pat movement spring up. I know we should stay here and fight, but how can you fight against the swelling evangelical fervor that is largely responsible for Bush’s popularity? There isn’t room for discussion with people who believe that the Bible is infallible, and who want to make their beliefs the law of the land, even if a majority of Americans don’t want them to be law. The majority of Americans, for instance, are pro-choice. But Bush doesn’t care. I’ll tell you what. I’ll make this compromise: I promise to return to America to take to the streets if (when?) the Supreme Court overturns Roe. I can’t imagine America taking that lying down. Maybe such provocation will finally shift the country out of this deadlock division; perhaps we have lost the election on the way to winning a revolution. Right now, it seems as if that is our only hope.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Victory Day!

What a birthday this is turning out to be. I’m barely functioning on just over a hour of sleep (3:30-4:30am). What took so long was preparing the 20 lines for the lawyers and the situation room; it must be Murphy’s Law to have the unexpected crop up when you start preparing too late in the game. But we delivered a functional situation room to coordinate county results and the “boiler room” for the legal team, which is really just a corner of the original main office space. Although I’m confident more voters want Kerry to be president, there are problems throughout the county, which isn’t good. I don’t want to go into too many details now, since I suppose it is privileged information of a sort.

I’ve spent most of the day hiding out in the copy room, since I don’t have the energy to deal with the chaos on the field side of the curtain. We have managed to keep the operations side relatively clear of unnecessary people, so it is comparatively calm here today. I’m too tired to feel bad about not running around like a crazy person. I figured I delivered when I had to, and my role now is more of support than initiation.

We gotta win, but once the polls close I’m taking a nap before going to stare down the news until the wee hours. I don’t have much hope we’ll have anything conclusive this evening, but at least we will be able to celebrate the end our very, very long haul. It feels surreal almost that we’re here, it really is Election Day. But that could be mostly the effect of sleep deprivation—I’ve gotten a total of 9 hours in the past 3 nights, I’d say. Speaking of which, I’m going to try to catch a power nap on my desk here.

Monday, November 01, 2004

A Halloween unlike any other

Technically, it is already the day before the election! Our final staff meeting is keeping us here past midnight. Today was another long and busy day of handling copies and printouts and other technical issues, plus trying to do a few things to prepare for 11/2. It is hard to imagine that most people are living normal lives right now, which tonight meant going out and trick-or-treating—in our world, it is all campaign all the time, where days of the week have long ceased to exist, since they are all equally long for us. Tomorrow is going to be absolutely vital if Election Day is going to go well, since we have not even begun to reconfigure the office spatially. The longer this meeting goes on, the more I realize that we are not as prepared as we should be, and we probably won’t be as prepared as we want to be by the time the polls open. We have a functioning rides program and lots of lawyers and pollwatchers set to go to the polls, but we also have too few volunteers to do everything we wanted to do on Election Day to the fullest extent. But if I’ve learned anything over the last month and a half, it is that these things are about action, not about perfection, about something rather than everything. Campaigns are amazing how they mobilize a bunch of strangers to work together to do an incredible amount of work. There is a certain magic to it, actually: today I felt the sheer pride of working toward the common good when Carole King dropped by to rally us and lead us in the singing of “You’re Got A Friend.” After seeing the energy of this place at this point in the game, I understand why people like to participate in campaigns. It is a completely different type of experience now than it was when I first got here.

Now I am home, ready to collapse. I wanted to finish this entry since I’m doubtful I’ll post again before the BIG DAY. I’m optimistic, though it’s true we work in a blissful bubble of Kerry support. If the Red Sox winning the World Series wasn’t a good enough sign, I was told today about the Redskin’s election rule—did you know that the final game before a presidential election of the Washington Redskin’s has correlated to the winner of the presidency since 1932? Apparently, if the Redskin’s lose or tie the final game, the incumbent loses his bid for reelection. And today they lost to Green Bay, 28 to 14. I’m telling you, our karma is good. I can’t promise that Teresa LePore will make things easy—in fact, she’s already made them hard—but I know that we will find a way to win and keep hold of our victory this time. As I’ve seen on a T-shirt in the office: 11.2.2004—the end of an error.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Scorpios

If you aren’t into astrology, you are just going to roll your eyes at this, but I have to say that it is absolutely uncanny how many Scorpios are participating in this election effort. 10.29 was the birthday of Megan, a relatively recent arrival, and 10.30 is Sarah’s birthday. And as many of you may recall, 11.2—Election day itself—is my birthday. There are just so many birthdays in late October in this office, it’s quite remarkable.

Tonight we went out to celebrate Megan and Sarah’s birthdays, after presenting them with cake in the office, which was organized by one of our very cool receptionist volunteers named Stephanie. It is absolutely stupid of me to be going out considering I have to be up and functioning with a full supply of patience in just a few hours, but once we clinked our champagne glasses, it was all over. That stuff goes right to one’s head, especially after a full day in the poorly ventilated copy room.

It was truly odd—Megan, Sarah and I were hoping for an intimate evening, but over 20 people from the office eventually showed up. Even if we lose on Tuesday, we can take credit for a bunch of Democrats actually managing to pay our tab at this very chic-chic restaurant in West Palm Beach. It was just over $700! The food was good, and despite the sign on the door that said “dressed code enforced,” the waiters were unpretentious.

This dinner was by far the more interesting part of my day. I sit in the copy room now, and even if I’m not busy, I take pride in the fact that I’m protecting our resources just by my presence. I made a few forms, and did a number of other things in addition to my usual duties as copy mistress and message guru, but I am trying to steer clear of much of the other messiness of the office. I have learned that I’m still useful even if I’m not always busy. I don’t care to be busy, quite honestly—I have many moments where I’m just counting down the seconds until this thing is over. The only thing I dislike more than grass roots politics is the thought of four more years of Bush! Just 4 more days to go…...

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Do you copy?

The ranks are swelling, and I have moved into the copy room in order to manage our resources and prevent people from breaking the machines. This morning was a nice “worst case scenario”—both the network and the toilets in the ladies’ room were out of order. I got us back online with the phoned-in assistance of our tech guy, and I left the toilet problems to the plumber.

I don’t expect there to be many dull moments from this point forward, though this meeting I’m sitting in right now might just qualify. I have no qualms about not staying until all hours, even though I suppose it behooves me to keep myself as in the loop as possible. There are simply too many people now involved to keep this meeting down to a reasonable length.

The other thing in which I don’t have any interest is the celebrity visits. Today we had the Women’s Tour sweep through, which included Kristen Dunst and Julia Louis Dreyfus. It must be nice to feel as is you can make a contribution simply by showing up and making a few phone calls for the sake of a photo op. People were photocopying their phone banking sheets as souvenirs!

The fact that there are only five days left in this thing strikes me as downright unreal. While I think that our effort is going well, I don’t have any faith in the county to pull off a fair and orderly election. Record turnout is predicted in this county, but that is meaningless if you cannot keep the voters in what are expected to be rather long lines at polling places. I’m convinced that we will not know who will be the next president is at the end of Nov. 2nd, not only because of Florida, but because of other states that may even have worse problems. It will be particularly unsatisfying to go to bed that morning not knowing the outcome. I’m not sure this country can handle another contested election, especially if Kerry wins the popular vote as Gore did, but then Bush is installed into another term by the courts.

But for now the minutiae of print, copy and fax jobs keeps me focused in the moment. Tomorrow there is a rally—Kerry is here in West Palm Beach. It needs to be a success, since it is so close to the election. We’ll see. Things have changed so much from the days when I could work an event—even though those days are not very long ago. Now I just try to minimize their impact on our overall operations.

The meeting is over. Time to hit the road so I can hit the hay, and come back early and start again.

Monday, October 25, 2004

A question of timing

Poor Robert—he is off burning the candle at both ends as he covers for me while I take these few days off. While I won’t have many campaign stories to tell, I do have one from yesterday that I’d like to share. Robert and I left the office for an adventure to the Ft. Lauderdale office, which is the state campaign headquarters. We had borrowed a truck of a friend of another staff person, since we were on a ‘chum run,’ specifically the 4 ft x 10 ft signs. Our trip down 95 was slowed by some rains squalls, though we were back in the sun when we arrived in Lauderdale. In the parking lot, we ran into Jared, the media tracker, who was rushing back to the office because someone had told him that Hillary Clinton was on her way to the office for a visit. Sure enough, the secret service were already staked out in front. She enters the office about 15 minutes later, to great fanfare. I was standing maybe 3 feet from her as she gave a little speech about the importance of the credibility of the election, etc., etc. It is rather a disturbing thought that there is a good chance that this election will be contested in one if not more courts. Is it just me, or is there a general trepidation that the American democracy is in jeopardy, and has been ever since thousands were disenfranchised in 2000 and the presidency awarded to Bush by a partisan Supreme Court?

Hillary’s visit made it so that we were blocked from loading chum into our truck until she left, since her departure point was the back of the building, where we needed to be, too. So we stuck around doing nothing while Hillary had her visit. As odd as it was for me to watch people faun over her, it was even odder to wonder what it must be like to be a political celebrity. It must feel awkward to have total strangers walk up to you and put their arms around you and have your picture taken, right? There go my aspirations for public office!

When we finally got our load into the truck, we headed back up US 1 as essentially a mobile Kerry Edwards billboard. We got some honks of approval, and one thumbs down—that’s pretty brave, I thought. We went over to the Delray Office to drop off some pins, and one of the staff there decided to hijack our truck, and insisted on taking some of the yard signs we were bringing up to West Palm. He was a true asshole about it, actually. While we are all supposedly on the same team, there are some true tensions between the local offices in terms of resource allocation. I suppose it is easy to be selfish when there is some sense of competition between the offices in terms of performance. It was good however that we stopped by, since they were in need of some of the large signs for the Kerry event today. The other staff guy, a campaign veteran, asked nicely for them, and we obliged. We returned much later than anticipated, rather amused at our day’s misadventure.

Robert tells me I was missed today in the office, which gives me hope that I will be able to feel useful instead of just frustrated when I return for the final push. One thing is for sure: this little break is providing an essential attitude adjustment.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Burnout, and timeout

I seem to have misplaced the rosy-colored glasses through which I was looking at things the other day. Might have something to do with the 820 absentee ballot requests I processed and delivered yesterday. After encouraging people to fill out these forms, we promptly turned around and are now encourage them to vote early, with the result that we are creating more work for the already demonstrably strapped SOE, and preventing the people who really need those ballots because they are homebound from receiving them promptly. I recognize that my attitude toward our efforts is as inconsistent as the polls have been in these past months! Part of it sheer fatigue. I admitted complete defeat by exhaustion and went to bed at 10:30 last night. I felt rested when I awoke this morning, but getting enough rest only seems to highlight the mental fatigue I’m beginning to feel in the office. My reaction to the influx of people is pretty much that of a territorial beast who feels its home turf encroached upon, which is not a good sign, considering that the chaos and numbers of people will probably increase ten-fold everyday from here on out. Robert and I are attempting to inspire, or even spur, the planning for Election Day, since we don’t have a do-over if we find ourselves unprepared.

Today we experienced a special perk (the usual perks are free doughnuts, as if working hard demands that we eat poorly, too) of a visit by Gloria Steinem. I thought that was pretty darn cool, and I’m sure I’ll manage to embellish the experience into a nice yarn for my kids and grandkids. I made sure to shake her hand. The actress Wendy something from the TV show Just Shoot Me also dropped by today, but I don’t know her from Adam, so I just went about my business. Something for everyone, I guess.

I’ve been showing up early the past few days and getting the receptionists set up. We finally seem to have enough bodies to manage the number of calls, which is nice. When I checked the voicemail at 5:30, there were only two messages, both from one guy who’d called at 8:15—well before the office opened, and just minutes after Robert had checked from the house just after 8am. So we are answering enough calls, and/or people are no longer leaving messages. It is clear that now we have an adequate system in place—but when early voting began five days ago, we were floundering. Which is why I’m hoping that we can anticipate our needs on Election Day and get it right the first time.

I may also be feeling burned out in an attempt to justify the fact that I’m going to take a few days off. A friend of mine is coming down here on Sunday and I want to enjoy his company as well as the natural beauty of this place. It is a pity to be cooped up all day in the chilly office. Despite being overrun by strip malls and never-ending highway construction (as governor when your bro is the president, there is no shortage of federal money heading your way), Florida is actually a remarkably beautiful place, with an incredible endowment of wildlife. It would have been truly something to have been here the land was not so built up. It is such a shame that cars and roads dominate this place. I can understand why the climate is such a draw, but the beauty of this place seems spoiled by so much driving and sprawl.

I’ll be taking a break as the whirlwind of activity intensifies. John Edwards was here today, Hillary Clinton is here tomorrow, John Kerry is here on Sunday, Al Gore is here on Monday, and Bill Clinton on Tuesday. Welcome to Florida, where even if they can’t count your vote, both sides want you to cast it.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

And then time stood still....

Today the clock in my car broke. It’s not a new car, so most of its parts are from 1989, which makes events like this not so surprising, but it’s always weird how things just go from working to not working all of a sudden. Something invisible just breaks or shifts and what used to be simply is no longer. Call me superstitious, but it seems like there is change in the air; like my clock that simply gave up on the time, so the world seems to be full of uncommon events: the Red Sox are 3 outs away from a historic comeback and World Series appearance. Could a Kerry upset of Bush be far behind?

Today was my first official early shift, where I left for the office alone at 8am, and came home alone around 8pm. Robert left a bit later and came home a bit later. It makes us both more productive, both at home and in the office. I’m exhausted, however, and I won’t be able to pull this off for even 13 more days without some sleep. The office is really humming along now. It seems to have reached almost a critical mass, where it seems like there are enough people around to do the necessary tasks. The mood is very upbeat.

It seems as if the absentee ballot request crunch has ended—today I only took in about a dozen requests. Our rides-to-the-polls program is now up and running; granted, it’s a few days late, but better late than never. Of all the things I have learned over the last month, one of them is that things happen, but not always exactly when you would have ideally wanted them to happen. But the bottom line is that we are getting the job done. I was thinking how many hours all together all of the volunteers will have put in over the course of the campaign, and it is pretty astronomical. The kind of willingness that so many people have shown to give of themselves and their time makes me believe that the spirit of democracy is indeed alive and well in this country. It really is amazing on a certain level to build an office that is overwhelmingly full of volunteers. I feel quite privileged to be a part of it.

And Boston is going to the World Series. See, miracles do happen!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Top of the ninth

I don’t know what has more tension, this presidential election in Florida or game six of the ALCS! They might have to send those cops on the field down here if things go badly on Election Day. Robert and I are rooting for the Sox, because it is more fun than rooting for the Yankees, but these long games are keeping me from fulfilling my promises to go to bed early! Baseball however is a welcome distraction from our presidential playoff….

I’ve been reading the New York Times the past few days, including its endorsement of Kerry published on Sunday. I don’t think I should allow myself to speculate about what will happen should Bush win or steal another term, but it is hard to avoid falling into a depressed state about this whole thing. We turned in over 1,000 more absentee ballot requests today that have a good chance of not being mailed in time. Actually, the push for voting by mail has been so big that I have a feeling (based on some evidence of this) that many people submitted more than one request, which actually hurts the entire process by creating more work for the overwhelmed SOE. And on top of that, we are encouraging people to go vote now even if they have requested an absentee ballot, meaning that many people could receive their ballots after they have voted, and thus (we hope!) not use them. One only hopes that the out-of-state requests get where they need to be in time, since those folks have no other options.

Early vote continues to proceed, despite problems at some locations (the Boca Raton location didn’t open this morning, though I never heard why), and lines everywhere. The office keeps adding staff people of various sorts from various disciplines (press, legal, etc.) and volunteers are beginning to stream in more steadily. We have made much progress on our voicemail issues, having dedicated 3 of our 5 hard lines to answering incoming calls. It has really helped—after not checking for a day, essentially, we only had 6 messages. I almost cried I was so happy when I found that out.

The absentee ballot requests should hopefully stop coming in, and they have been taking up the majority of my time, so it will be interesting to see what I will end up doing in these final two weeks. Whatever it is, I’ll do my best to keep you posted. For now, I’m off to bed—an ex-Oakland A, Keith Foulke, just got the save to force game seven! Amazing!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Let the voting begin

So here we go! Robert and I ended up at ground zero of early voting today, since we pulled into the SOE’s [Supervisor of Elections] Office bright and early just as the doors opened. We got to see Kerry’s airplane on the tarmac on the way over, and we swung back around after picking up a camera at Walgreen’s. Silly, but we can’t help ourselves.

Despite the fact that already several problems have emerged here, I find myself feeling upbeat about this election and especially about being here. One of the county early locations had computer problems, which only added to the problem of a long line and slow voting—there were only six machines. It is difficult for us to push early voting when LePore is not willing to respond to the demand. More troubling to me are the absentee ballots. A volunteer who was returning requests that he’d went and gotten signatures for was told that it was unlikely they’d get ballots. It’s as if LePore can just decide that she doesn’t have to do her job for whatever reason she likes. Maybe she’ll decide to go on vacation and cancel the entire election. It’s unbelievable to me how difficult this county makes voting. Here are some of the more perturbing things I’ve discovered about absentee voting:

1) As detailed above, the ballots aren’t mailed out early enough, or quickly enough after requests are received.

2) They cost 83 cents to return, which means a trip to the post office for exact postage, or 3 first class stamps (wasting 28 cents). You can also turn bring them to one of the Supervisor’s offices, and we are collecting them at our office as well. But the Dems are so freaked that we haven’t delivered them yet, since there is some worry that the Republicans will try to use some wording on the state website to try to claim that they cannot be delivered by a third party, even though the SOE accepts them this way without question. The law is clear that anyone can deliver them (they are sealed, after all), but after 2000, the paranoia is palpable. But the point I want to make here is that our absentee ballots cost one stamp. They are 5 by 8.5 inch envelopes, whereas the Florida ones are those big manila envelope size, since they contain a secrecy envelope with the ballot inside the outside envelope that identifies the voter. We had 20 initiatives on the ballot, but they still managed to fit them on one piece of card stock that folded into its envelope. Florida does a bilingual ballot, but it still seems to me they didn’t try hard enough….

3) They tell you to fill it out in pencil, or “with the implement provided,” which is never provided, whatever it is. Now I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sit well with me.

4) It’s the craziest optical scan system I’ve ever seen. Instead of filling in bubbles like on standardized tests, the ballot has a series of broken arrows next to each candidate or yes/no initiative. To vote, you are supposed to complete the arrow by making a line in the space between the two broken pieces. Can anyone say confusing? I learned about this today because a guy called our office confused about it. I could see why. Everyone is nervous about screwing this up. We know how much is riding on the outcome.

5) There are no ballot stubs. Now this is just plain idiotic. Every absentee ballot I have ever used has had a part you tear off to keep as proof you voted. This county has nothing.

After 2000, I knew that the problems in this county were real. However, being here has brought the difference between places like Alameda County and Palm Beach County home to me in a way that reading about it could never have done. It is the ultimate irony to me that the Supreme Court pretended to make a decision about equal protection in 2000 when voting procedures across the nation are so disparate and so obviously inferior in many places. It doesn’t seem like rocket science to register voters and hold elections. If one county in one state can do it, why can’t all of them? After all, if we can’t manage to have free and fair elections, our country is history. I predict a revolution if as many people are in effect disenfranchised in this election as were in 2000. I’m ready to go to the streets if Bush is re-selected….

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I am my own wife, Florida style

Where do the days go? Time is really beginning to fly now, and there is none to spare for feeling upset about mismanagement, etc. There is only time to try to manage as best one can the latest eye-rolling crisis. The office is beginning to fill and hum with activity. Granted, chaotic activity, but activity nonetheless. Today Robert and his friend Rich broke down the wall that separated our space from the adjoining empty retail space. The wall had been constructed for our occupancy either because the landlord did not want to rent us the whole gigantic lot or we couldn’t afford it. So now we have moved our phone banking next door, which is a relief. It was getting old hearing the same scripts over and over as I sat trying to do six things at once at my desk.

Here are some highlights from the last couple of days:

“Advance,” but not progress. Kerry is coming on Monday, which means on top of everything else, the latest advance team has arrived to usurp our time and resources. We begged them not to give out our phone number as the info line like last time, but unfortunately the crowd guy (one of the advance team, like the motorcade guy, etc.) sees that our lame fax machine is out of order with a replacement coming soon, and decides without asking anyone to make our fax line the hotline. “You’ve got an answering machine, right?” he asks. Nice. We have our new fax, but the line is now attached to the requisite machine that spouts ticket info. I thought that was a pretty dumb move until I saw the flyer. Not only was our office number on it, so were all the other offices’ numbers! Down at the bottom was the lowly hotline number. So we hadn’t saved ourselves a thing—we’d just lost our fax line for the weekend to little or no purpose. This event on Monday is an early vote kick-off, and is being held inside a well-known gated community called Century Village, where you have to be over 55 or 65 to live there. Because it’s Kerry, there will be magnetometers [I just looked that up on the web, and realized that I’ve been saying my own invented word “magnometers” this whole time] and I know all too well how long it takes to move people through. It’s an outside event and it’s early in the morning: doors open at 7:30am. Robert and I are so worried that it will be a disaster that we are reluctant to work the event. And I have a previous engagement of sorts, with the Supervisor of Elections. Which brings me to another episode….

You know we’re in trouble when…. Robert and I have been bringing in the absentee ballot request forms that we get in our office down to the Supervisor’s office all this week. The other day alone I brought in almost 500. This is nothing compared to the record number of requests sent in for this election (I can’t find the newspaper article with the numbers! Grrr!), but it is a lot for me to process. I have to look at all of them to make sure they are signed and at least reasonably coherent. In a bid to encourage people to vote absentee (these votes will provide the only paper trail in the county) many organizations have sent out various kinds of absentee ballot request forms. The Democrats here however are managing to do more harm than good with theirs, since many people manage to fill it out wrong. We got a hundred easily that hadn’t been signed (which we are trying to deal with by mail and phone calls), due to the fact that the part you have to fill out was on the top left of the 4 by 8.5 inch card and the signature place was in the bottom right. I wish I had the resources to put an image of it on the web for you to see. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to fill out correctly, but when you old, or if you aren’t very educated in form-ese, it’s very likely you’ll do something wrong. My favorite mistake is people who fill out the top right hand side by mistake. The top right hand side is for someone who is requesting a ballot for a family member. You write your information as the requestor, and then you state what the “Requestor’s relationship to voter” is, such as mother, son, sister, etc. Many people filed this part out even though the request was for themselves, and wrote the most bizarre things in this space, ranging from the silly “same” or “self” to the strange “none” to the humorous “wife”—leading me to the “I am my own wife” designation of such forms.

One of these correct requests for a family member however caught the attention of a worker at the SOE who was looking through the forms. Robert and I have become familiar with one of the clerks, but by Friday things were getting busy that I was taken aside and some other women dealt with me. They have to look them over to see if they are signed, even though I’d already done that. Anyway, this woman saw one that was signed by a woman who’d written POA after her signature, meaning Power of Attorney. Power of Attorney does not grant standing to request an absentee ballot for someone, so she said that this one wouldn’t be acceptable. Except that this requestor was the daughter, submitting the form for her mother. The fact that she happened to have Power of Attorney was irrelevant, since her standing as a relative allowed her to request her mother’s ballot. I explained this to the woman, who was unconvinced, and went back to check with someone else. She came back and conceded I was right. I was pleased with myself, yet more than a little perturbed that a few day’s exposure to these forms had me more familiar with their rules than this employee. When I suggested to the women hastily date stamping my piles of request forms that things must be very busy, one of them said ominously “you don’t even know the half of it.” It really will be a miracle if things go well here in this county. It will be nothing short of a miracle.

To come back full circle, I asked our favorite clerk Stephanie when would be the best time to come on Monday if I had to drop off ballots. She said first thing, which means 8:30 am, and that means I can’t really work the Kerry event. I fear that the Main SOE office is going to be ground zero at 8:30 on Monday, since that is when early voting begins, but I guess I’ll have to give it a try. Nothing like being in the center of things to make you feel important!

Unhired help. I’ve said previously that the best aspect of this experience is the people I’ve met. We continue to add people from all over the country. Today I spoke to another volunteer who is coming in from afar next week—upstate NY to be exact—and she turned me on to a cheap car rental place, which is just what Robert and I needed. So we will have two cars beginning Monday afternoon, which will allow us to split shifts. On the other end of the spectrum was another volunteer considering flying in from Bay Area. He however apparently had a slightly different idea about things. He needed us to arrange housing, which we do (we use volunteers who offer to host these so-called Kerry travelers), but he seemed annoyed that we hadn’t been in touch with him about a place to stay and whether we’d provide him a car (apparently someone higher up in the organization is making it sound like we are a full-service campaign, which is the funniest thing I’ve heard this week). He asked what he’d be doing, and I mentioned what will be going on, like phone calling, canvassing, visibility, general office help. When I mentioned phone banking, he said in an annoyed tone “if it’s just phone calls I can do that from here, I don’t need to come out there.” I felt like telling him to get off his high horse, and that while it may not be glamorous, everything we do here is important, and if he doesn’t feel it’s worth his effort, we’ll do just fine without him. What is this guy’s problem? Does he want to help, or does he want to feel self-important? Some people. I hope he doesn’t come. I’ll keep you posted.

Time for some much-needed sleep. We did manage to enjoy ourselves a bit, taking a walk out to the beach after leaving the office. The weather today was gorgeous, so a nature break was ideal. Tonight I've spent some time dealing with my other life; for example, I need to get readmitted into Berkeley to go back to the books once this ride is over. Robert is already passed out, having slept through most of the Yankees’ routing of the poor Red Sox. We stayed late last night and got up extra early this morning (thinking we’d leave at 1 or 2, and not at 4). We were the first people there today at nine, which was exciting. I think I’m going to start working 9 to 6 or 7 instead of 11 to 9 or 10. It’s fun being there in the morning—provided you have the energy to get out of bed! How many days left? Whew, only 17!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Beers and Bush

We are watching the debate at the office here tonight. It’s fun, but I’m sure I’m driving everyone nuts with my shout-out commentary. I can’t help it!

I find myself feeling the same way about this debate as I have about the other: Kerry is doing great, and I can’t understand why Kerry isn’t simply trouncing Bush in the polls. Though the trends indicate that Bush is falling and Kerry is gaining, which is very good for us.

These moments of awe over how absolutely important it is to be here, doing this campaign right now provide a drastic contrast to my general feeling of incredulity (and at times, rage) of how hopelessly mismanaged things are. A sort of us-against-them attitude seems to be developing between me and others in the office based on my general distaste for chaos and poor communication. It is oh-so-easy to say ‘we’ll just do this’ without thinking about how it gets done, and by whom. Robert and I have processed and delivered about 200 absentee ballots requests to the Supervisor of Elections office that were about to be the victims of this kind of approach. I spent a bunch of today trying to provide a similar rescue for the poll watcher program; no one had been regularly communicating with a volunteer who had offered to coordinate the certifications of poll watchers, and it turns out she doesn’t have enough people. The deadline for certification is Tuesday, and once certified, these people must participate in a training session.

I’m sure I’m seen as uptight, the one who overreacts to small matters instead of just rolling with the punches. I’m sure they see me as old and rigid. But while the optimism and can-do attitude of youth is wonderful, and probably essential to a campaign, not thinking about how making a decision effects the entire system, and not planning, and not following through on things to make sure they are being done, these are sure-fire roads to failure. And if I get upset about that I think it’s understandable way: we cannot afford to fail here.

It’s almost 12am and we’re still here, and I’m sure we won’t be sleeping in tomorrow. These are going to be 20 long, tough days….

The Midas Touch

Everything we touch improves, some of the young’uns have remarked. Today, we began to touch an essential function of the office: the processing of absentee ballot requests. Incredibly, but almost predictably given the record on such matters, no one had been assigned responsibility for organizing the reviewing, photocopying and delivering and then logging of these ballots. There is a lot of apprehension among folks here about voting. Absentee ballots were supposed to be mailed beginning today. Considering the absentee ballots sent to Robert and myself at our California addresses arrived a week ago, this county does seem a bit behind the ball. Especially if you are out of state, 21 days isn’t a long time to allow for mail both ways and turnaround time. Who can say when the ballots we are still processing and will deliver tomorrow, and the following day, and the day after that, etc., etc. to the Supervisor of Elections’ office will arrive at their proper destinations? We are going to stop telling people to request them on the 18th, when early voting begins, since we feel the need to err on the side of extreme caution.

Despite the fact that we are working long and hard, my frustration and almost disbelief at how unorganized things really are, and likely will remain for the most part, continues to do daily battle with my will to serve the cause. I’m observing more frayed nerves all around, actually, as the days count down. Robert and I have discussed how part of our reluctance to jump into a larger role earlier was an assumption of an organization that just wasn’t there. It took us so long to see and believe it that we let the moment to assume more responsibility and authority slip by. I was so nervous about failing were I too assume responsibility for the big tasks I saw undone; now I realize however the goal is not perfection, and I could have made things a lot better had I been willing to assume leadership. It is a lesson—one of the many—I will take with me out of this campaign.

I’ve got to hit the sack now, but I wanted to end with an update on the office recycling. We drove out to the Solid Waste Authority with my car full of plastic and aluminum, and barely found what we thought was the recycling center. We dumped our stuff where this random employee was using a frontloader to push recyclables into a giant heap in this warehouse. We’re about to leave when these two manager types run out to us and start asking questions. Turns out we had landed in the commercial recycling area, which is run by a private company that gets paid by how much they collect in trucks from curbside programs. In other words, our saving these hundreds of bottles and cans from the landfill wasn’t making these guys money. Ouch. So it appears that other than those random igloos and curbside programs, which aren’t available in many places, in this county Joe citizen is out of luck finding places to recycle. Guess voting isn’t the only arena where CA has the leg up on FL. It makes me miss the Golden State!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Cleaning up after the kids

Everyday, I make some improvements in my own organization as well as that of the office. Today I attacked the copy/supply room, which is usually a blizzard of papers that people print and then never collect. Kerry better win, because our office alone will have caused the death of so many trees that another four years of Bush may well mean the end of the world. It drives me nuts how wasteful certain people in the office are, and how better organization and communication could prevent such needless consumption of paper; but I suppose if trees have to be felled, we can console ourselves with the thought that we are fighting for a better world, not only for trees, but for people, too!

I’m quickly gaining a reputation for being a bit anal; I think I about drove a few people batty today with my insistence that they copy originals (that is, laser printouts) of flyers, instead of copying copies and copies of copies, the rationale being that the quality quickly degrades. I’ve said before that the young people running this operation have a “cram-for-the-exam” attitude, where they don’t plan much in advance, don’t anticipate their needs, and thus don’t have much time or concern with such matters as the quality of the copies they are sending out. If I wasn’t so confident that I was making a big difference, I might feel kind of stupid for insisting on such things. But actually I think my concern for such matters is critical, and my attitude has changed as a result. As I take on more and more organizational challenges, I find myself more willing to fight battles that a week or two ago I didn’t concern myself with at all. I had to turn a blind eye because I couldn’t handle the chaos. Now however I know that if someone doesn’t step in, the crises will be grow to such a proportion as to be completely unmanageable. So I’m stepping in and insisting on a certain level of organization for the materials that we use to distribute information and run the phone banks. Making and organizing materials isn’t rocket science, and neither is cleaning up a messy room, but these humble tasks are part of the victory, a big part.

This evening I found out purely by accident that a volunteer had made us a website, and I jumped at the chance to use it. I have thought several times how useful it would be to be able to publicize over the web. Granted, we live in a county full of elderly who don’t use the internet, but it can’t hurt. I phoned up this guy Joe, and we’re going to met to update the site so that when we publicize it, it will give accurate information. Done well, it will save us time answering easy questions and will hopefully make it easier to get volunteers where we need them without having to initiate by making phone calls. Right now, our only ways of getting information out is by phone and by email, but email is pretty cumbersome, due to a) the fact that we have no server of our own, and use Gmail; and b) the fact that anti-spammer rules limit us to emailing 50 people at a time, so you have to break your list of 1000s of people in to groups of 50. You can imagine how time consuming that is.

While I am thus engaged on these somewhat micro issues, Robert has been doing some major macro stuff, making a plan to build or supply workspaces not only in our office and the adjoining space to it (now empty), but also the offices in Delray Beach and Lake Worth, both cities further south in the county. Between the two of us, I must say, we are a powerful force. We make things happen by doing them, things big and small. We’re in this thing all the way, until the end. We even have a hundred or so plastic bottles in the back seat of the car as we look for a place to recycle them—the igloo by the condo was full today (it’s the last priority I think after two hurricanes). Today, as my final task of the evening, I rounded up all the garbage (a job Robert usually does). I make a damn pretty janitor, if I do say so myself!