Presidential Race Maps Writing on the Wall

The Race Question: "Obama Effect" Or Lasting Political Realignment

Posted Nov 28, 2008 at 7:23 AM
Derek Fields, Caldwell, New Jersey

I think that in order to really understand the impact of racial voting, we need to see not only the breakdown of the vote but a normalized view based on relative density in the population.  I am not a demographer, but my sense is that the overall non-white population has been growing relative to the white population.  If this is the case and if it is the case the Obama has created a more permanent Democratic affiliation in the non-white population, then this creates some basis for arguing that the Democratic majority is sustainable over a longer term than just one election.  In other words, the more interesting racial question is whether this election was an "Obama-effect" that won't last beyond this election or this candidate or whether it is symptomatic of a general realignment of electoral power from whites to non-whites and whether that realignment favors the Democratic party.

An Obama poll worker writes

Posted Nov 21, 2008 at 8:53 AM
Adrian Monck, New York, New York

This is via an email from my friend's mom. Read it to the end if you will. It's why I like Americans:

   Yesterday, I was a poll worker in M-. There was a record turnout in this little Republican stronghold. BUT, in my district alone, there was an increase of 200 voters, bringing the total to 700. And guess what…657 of them got to the polls yesterday. Amazing how connected us "common" folks were to the beautiful message of hope.

   I don't have the numbers, and I don't think Obama carried our little town, but we were different yesterday. A choice was being made. Not the old straight-line Republican exercise of past decades.

   The turnout was huge here. By 6:00 AM, there were 15 people (two in wheelchairs) lined up to vote. I would estimate that more that 90% of M- voted yesterday. Everything was quiet and orderly. In a town where the Democrats and Independents sometimes don't even bother to show up, everyone came. There actually were a few times that voters had to wait for up to 10 minutes. This is very rare in M-. But, no one complained. It was a very, very serious ritual that was being performed yesterday.

   At one point, the teacher of an after-school day care program came in with a group of little kids. They were observing the important event that was taking place, and they were impressed with the sense of purpose the grown-ups were transmitting. They went back to their school to hold their own election… "which breed makes the best pet, cats or dogs"?

   I loved working for the Board of Elections yesterday. To be at a place where I saw the America I remember. When children came to watch the voting process, to help their parents "pull the lever" for Democracy. To be counted among the millions.

   As soon as the polls closed, I went to M — to be with the Obama campaign people I worked with everyday for the last two months. It was an indescribable release of tension and vindication of our tirelessness and dedication to this extraordinary man. We were truly part of an army. And we won the war unconditionally.

   At 9:01, when the West Coast came online and simultaneously declared Obama the president-elect, we all cried and hugged and screamed and cheered. And we felt as one with the 61 million people that were finally able to express the true spirit of this country.

   The world is watching, and is hopeful about America. And my grandchildren live in a different country today. One of hope and promise and optimism. Just like the post-WW2 America I lived in as a child, but better…more inclusive. I helped make that happen. I'm proud of myself today. And of my fellow-Americans.

© Adrian Monck 2008


Amsterdam Avenue: November 4, 2008

Posted Nov 10, 2008 at 3:23 AM
Jeff Mermelstein, New York, New York


© Jeff Mermelstein

What I saw as a poll worker

Posted Nov 09, 2008 at 9:33 AM
Daniel Klotz, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

I worked at my polling place for 14 straight hours on Tuesday. I walked half a block to First United Methodist Church, the polling location for Lancaster's 6th Ward, 1st Precinct, at 6:30 a.m. and left at 9:30 p.m.  I had a good time with the other poll workers—Bill from state senator Gib Armstrong's staff, who was there to oppose the Lancaster County Home Rule Charter; Charlie the Democratic Committee's precinct captain; Roy, a gentleman of 67 who was there to support Bob Barr and other Libertarian-minded third-party candidates; and Leslie and Jessica who came from Millersville University to help Spanish-speaking voters.

I was there to support a vote in favor of the Home Rule Charter. I'm pleased to say that my neighbors came through—our precinct voted in favor of the charter by 61% to 39%, and only 83 of 584 voters chose not to vote on the question at all. Every voter was interesting, and I wish I could remember and write about them all.

The most interesting stuff, however, happened after the polls closed, when I took of my propaganda T-shirt and pin, stuck on my official "Poll Watcher" sticker, and walked inside just before the doors were locked, with my certificate from the county authorizing me to be there.

First, a "voting abnormality" story from the afternoon. A true patriot named Sarah, who is about my age and lives just down the block from me on the other side of the street (I'd never met her before), came to vote and found she was no longer in the signature book for this voting location. She had voted there on the last four elections, but somehow she had been purged from the rolls. The election workers at our polling place made a good-faith effort to find out where she was supposed to vote. They successfully helped at least a dozen other people find their correct polling place throughout the day, but not so with Sarah. She wound up going to three other polling places, only to be sent back to our location an hour and a half later. The judge of elections inside our location then instructed her to cast a provisional ballot.

The certificate and sticker that allowed me to stay past closing.

The idea behind a provisional ballot is simple: you complete a regular ballot, then have it sealed inside a green envelope on which is written your contact information and a description of the problem. You and an elections official then sign the envelope. Later, your provisional ballot is reviewed by the Board of Elections. They determine if in fact the mistake was their own (it usually is), and if so, they then include the provisionally-cast ballot in the final, official vote count. They also correct the mistake for the next election. (They don't tell you if they have counted your vote or not, or if they have corrected the mistake or not. You either have to go to all sorts of trouble to find out on your own, or just wait until the next election and try your luck then.)

Here's what happened: Sarah filled out her provisional ballot, then took it, along with the big green envelope, to the nearest election worker inside the polling place. He didn't speak much English, was generally excited and antsy (and an ardent Obama supporter), and had never done the job before. He took the ballot from her and immediately ran it through the ballot scanner. He thanked her and sent her outside. When she walked out the door, we saw her still holding the big green envelope and the legal-sized manila folder in which the ballots are handed out.

We realized something was wrong and tried to figure out what to advise her to do. When we realized that her vote had been counted but her name had not been written on the list of people who voted there, we realized something had to be said, or else there would be trouble reconciling the votes at the end of the night. (We were wrong about that. It wouldn't have caused any problem or discrepancy to be noticed at all. More on that in a second.) Charlie called his folks at the Democratic headquarters. They couldn't find anything in the elections laws or procedures covering the situation. So Charlie went back inside with Sarah and explained the situation to the judge of elections. She didn't know what to do, but took note of the problem and wrote detailed notes to be included in her report to the Board of Elections at the end of the night.

Let's jump back to 8 p.m., when the polls closed. Two of the elections workers had to leave right away, though the judge of elections had been counting on them to stay through the counting and closing, leaving four people to do all the work.

They proceeded with the vote count in the prescribed order:

Only 35 of 565 voters at my polling place chose to vote via eSlate, which leaves no paper trail.

  1. Close the eSlate machine. Throughout the day, 35 people had used the fully-electronic, touch-screen machine, which leaves no paper trail of any sort. Their votes were processed: 14 had voted straight Democratic and 1 had voted straight Republican; Obama registered 29 votes total, McCain 5, and Nader 1.
  2. Remove the paper ballots from the scanner machine, stack them neatly, and put them in a big zippered canvas bag to be returned to the Board of Elections.
  3. Open the absentee ballots that belonged to this precinct and scan them. There were 21 absentee ballots. One of them wouldn't scan, even though it only had a minor tear at the bottom, and even though the scanner will accept a ballot oriented in any direction (and even though they attempted a fix with Scotch tape). The one that wouldn't scan was sent to the Board of Elections, but was never included in the count that the polling place submitted in its election-night return.
  4. Close out the ballot scanning machine. Obama had 431 votes, McCain 105, Nader 4, and Bob Barr 4. Write-ins are counted and entered up to one month later, mostly by hand.

Because I was concerned to make sure that the earlier situation with Sarah's provisional ballot was handled properly, I was keeping close tabs on the total vote count. Here is the raw data I wound up collecting:

  • 565 names had been written in the book of voters who entered the polling place. (When you sign your name in the signature book, an election worker writes your name on a numbered list.)
  • 555 paper ballots had been used that day. 13 of those were "spoiled"—i.e., someone messed up and needed to start over. (The "spoiled" ballots were collected, put in a sealed envelope, and returned to the Board of Elections.) The polling venue had started the day with 1,120 paper ballots. They had 565 left over. (That, at least, added up.)
  • 35 voters had voted via the eSlate.
  • 1 voter (Sarah) had her paper ballot scanned but did not have her name recorded on the list of voters.
  • 21 absentee ballots had been received. 20 of those had been scanned; 1 was unable to be scanned. (None of them had been checked against the list of people who voted, to double-check that no one cast an absentee ballot and then wound up attempting to vote in person.)
  • 548 ballots had been counted by the scanning machine.
  • 17 provisional ballots had been (properly) cast and were waiting in green envelopes to be sent to the Board of Elections.

Here then, is the problem:

565 voters had come through the door and had their names written down on the list of people who voted
+1 voter's ballot was counted but her name did not appear on that list
+21 voters' absentee ballots had submitted
=587 voters.

Compare that to this:

548 ballots were counted by the scanning machine
+1 ballot (absentee) would not scan
+35 ballots were cast electronically (via the eSlate)
=584 ballots counted.

Oops. Our polling place records showed 587 legitimate voters (they appeared in the signature book and thus were allowed to vote at this precinct). Our polling place records showed 584 ballots had been counted.


This concerned the judge of elections when I was able to spell it out clearly and simply. She asked to keep the piece of paper on which I had written the (above) simple arithmetic with notes, and she included those in her report. But, she said, "that always happens every time."

There are possible explanations.

  • Someone could have come through the door, signed the signature page, had his or her name written on the list of voters, and then decided it wasn't worth waiting in line any more and left without actually casting a ballot. That's unlikely, though, because they would likely have made that decision after having been handed a paper ballot, and all the paper ballots were accounted for. (No one walked out the door with a ballot, in other words.) With only 35 people using the eSlate, there was never a line for people who weren't using paper ballots.
  • An election worker could have written down someone's name on the list of voters, only to discover that (oops!) that person wasn't in the signature book and needed to cast a provisional ballot instead. (And then didn't do anything about the mistake.) This, too, is unlikely. One of the election workers remaining at the end of the day had been at the "registration" table all day, where they check voters' names against the signature book and write down their names on the list. She had no recollection of any mishap like the one I suggest was possible. Also, for much of the day a poll watcher from the Democratic Committee was there checking names against her own list, serving as a sort of watchdog. Further, the person writing down people's names refers to the signature book for the proper spelling of the name. If it's not there in the signature book, it's unlikely it would be written down on the list.

What happened to those three voters, their three ballots?

I registered my concern and the judge of elections duly noted it, even as she said that such abnormalities are the norm. I had no desire to make a stink, only to do what I considered my duty as a poll watcher.

Instant runoff ballots are surprisingly straightforward.

We live in a democracy, the world's first and longest-standing. If there is one thing we should get all but perfect, it is voting. We obviously don't. The means of voting we use are grossly inconsistent between locales. We use electronic machines that can be tampered with and that leave no paper trail, verifiable or otherwise. (State representative Mike Sturla told me and my fellow poll workers of a reported tampering method: At the beginning of the day, the machines are checked to make sure that they have "zero" votes. McCain having -10 votes and Obama having +10 votes equals zero, and counts as zero. Diebold has claimed that they have corrected the error that allows that to happen, but even if that is true, what have they not caught or accounted for?) Perhaps worst of all, we staff the polling places with honorable and noble citizens who unfortunately are under-trained and unable to stay a full day to ensure consistency. They are responsible for making calculations and following strict (but often obscure) procedures at the end of a tiring 14- or 15-hour shift. We have yet to adopt worthwhile advances in modern-day voting such as instant-runoff voting, which would allow people to vote based on their conscience rather than based on political strategy.

I am troubled by all of this, but at the moment not all that deeply, and I have no plans to take any real action on these problems any time soon. Should I be more troubled? Should we be doing something more?

P.S. Be sure to check out the detailed initial returns from Tuesday for Lancaster County.

Freedom vs. security

Posted Nov 08, 2008 at 2:29 PM
Mel Rosenthal, New York, New York

Election Day on The Ground

Posted Nov 04, 2008 at 6:06 AM
Carrie Bickner-Zeldman, New York, New York

Voting in my neighborhood of Manhattan is normally a ten minute affair.  Drop in, find the correct district, chat with the poll clerks, close the curtain, weep for a moment, cast my ballot, and dash off to work.

Today was completely different (except for the tears; I always cry when I vote).  Four lines, one for each district at my poll site, wrapped around the block like a snake. You would have thought that people were waiting for a glimpse of Britney Spears.

And the crowd was different.  I used to see people who had time to vote.  Today I saw people who made time to vote.

Voices From The Field: Prospect Heights

Posted Nov 04, 2008 at 5:56 AM
Andras Szanto, Brooklyn, New York

Voices From The Field: Prospect Heights, 4 November 2008, Brooklyn, New York

© Andras Szanto

Biden Comes To Florida

Posted Nov 04, 2008 at 4:23 AM
Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, Gainesville, Florida

Democratic Rally for Joe Biden, University of Florida, Gainesville, 2 November 2008.

© Andrea Robbins and Max Becher

An Election Poll: The Bumper Stickers I've Seen in Florida

Posted Nov 03, 2008 at 11:58 AM
Caroline aka Morningside Mom, Tampa, Florida

I am facinated by bumper stickers. I always have been. I can't help but look to see what people have to say, what they believe in and what they choose to support publicly as they drive around town. It's no surprise then that I have a few bumper stickers of my own. Lots of people I know don't like bumper stickers, they argue that they are even unsafe since they give away a lot of personal information. But, well, I just couldn't help myself. My car is hardly very flashy as is, so I see no harm in spicing her up with a little bling.

However, my facination with bumper stickers has been fanned and ignited from a mild interest to a full blown obsession with this election. You see, I live in a suburb in Florida that is kind of a big deal right now. According to the polls, it is still one of the fewer areas in Floirda that they cannot predict for this election. And our state overall is still on the fence as to which way it will go. So depending on how my neighbors vote, the results for this county might actually help determine whether we become a red or blue state tomorrow. The people driving in the cars all around me could help decide who our next president will be. So when I started seeing campaign stickers plastered on the backs of cars in my area, I couldn't help but take notice. I was literally seeing who these drivers will vote for.

Last September, I started a little poll in my car. Since about the second week of that month, I started keeping track of every Obama and McCain bumper sticker that I saw. I was curious to see if my poll might reflect the polls for our state. Plus it helped me feel like I could have some sort of "heads up" about which way the area I lived in was voting. I was curious if I was the only Obama supporter for miles. It turns out I'm not.

I should also note here that I didn't count any signs or other parphenalia that I saw. (Until recently, the large majority of signs were for McCain.) And I tried to be very careful never to count the same car twice. (For instance, kindergarten pick up means seeing many of the same cars everyday.) And even if a car was covered in Obama stickers, it was only counted once. I also continued my poll if I drove out of my area. I drove to Orlando twice during my poll and counted the stickers I saw. I am not sure how scientific my methods were but, for the last month and a half, I have been on hyper bumper sticker alert, hunting down stickers at every traffic light, traffic jam and parking lot I found myself at.

And now - cue drum roll - a day away from our national presidential election, I would like to present you with my results.

Total cars with bumper stickers: 114

Obama bumper stickers: 62 (54%)

McCain bumper stickers: 52 (45%)

It looks like Obama won, right? Well, I should also tell you that I attended an Obama meeting and counted 9 stickers there (I am sure there were more but thats as many as I actually saw). So, if I hadn't attended that meeting, Obama would have only won in this poll by one bumper sticker.

So what does it tell me? Of the sample of cars I saw during my drives around town daily, the polls reflect pretty much what I saw. Elections results for this area of Tampa are going to be very CLOSE tomorrow.

And now, back to wringing my hands and hoping all goes well tomorrow.


Obama Campaign Mobilizes in Allentown

Posted Nov 03, 2008 at 8:27 AM
Marc Greene, Brooklyn, New York

© Marc Greene

On the Ground in Virginia

Posted Nov 03, 2008 at 4:28 AM
Perry Tourtellotte, Sweet Briar, Virginia

Locally-made, large homemade signs in Nelson County -- the rural Virginia county between conservative Lynchburg, the more liberal Albemarle County, Charlottesville and the University of Virginia. Nelson County is an interesting cross-section of Virginia voters. Many smaller signs are stolen.

Democrat from Amherst County instrumental in promoting the Obama campaign in this conservative stronghold.

Kira, a recent college graduate and Obama Campaign Field Organizer in Amherst County.

Skipper Fitts at the opening Democratic Office in Amherst County. Skipper has lived in Amherst County since 1970's and never thought that Democrats would ever have a chance here in Virginia.

Lynchburg Obama supporter working out of Democratic office in Lynchburg. Lynchburg is the home of the late Jerry Fallwell and Liberty University.

Another Obama supporter in Lynchburg.

© Perry Tourtellotte


Posted Nov 01, 2008 at 11:14 AM
Oliver Wasow , New York, New York

© Oliver Wasow