God Bless Us

For all those who made calls and knocked doors, for all those who left home and worked in the campaign, for all those who sent money, for all those who talked to a friend or neighbor, for all those who wrote, for all those who prayed, for all those who went to the polls, thank you. We the people have tonight taken an unprecedented step, opening a door to a wide open future for us and for the world. Let's make it great.


Sloppy Democracy: A Tale of Election Woe

I set out for the polls at noon with a light heart that now has sunken. At the end of short walk in sunshine of a glorious autumn day, I arrived at my designated polling place -- the Peter Roujet Middle School in Brooklyn -- and approached the information table, excited to exercise this most sacred of American duties. I told the woman my address; she looked in her materials and told me to get in line for the 20th district. I did.

Immediately in front of me in line were three young, Latino Brooklynites, voting for the first time. They were excited about it. But when, after about 15 minutes, they reached the table to get their voter cards, they found that not one of them was in the list of registered voters. They were offered paper affidavit ballots instead. They refused, thoroughly unconvinced that such ballots would be counted. They stormed out. During the minor fracas, a middle-aged Latino came to back the young men, saying he'd been turned down the previous year -- despite his having lived in the same house in that neighborhood for the past 30 years.

"They're trying to keep out votes out," he said, half-yelling. "But that's okay. The black man is still gonna win. White man trying it again."

This rattled me. Then I stepped to the table.

"He's in the wrong place. He should be at 15."
"The information table sent me here."
"She'll take you over to the front of the line."

Another poll worker appeared and led me to the front of the massively long line for district 15 and offered me to the three workers there. They told us to wait. She told me, "I'll be right back." She never reappeared. The workers at the table snapped at me, told me I had to get in the back of the line. I explained the situation -- they'd already heard it from the worker who'd brought me to them. They resisted. Told me I was being unfair. I started to step towards the back of the line, when one of them said, "Fine. I'll take care of you after we take three more people."

After two people were processed another poll worker approached the table.

"The computer fixed now?" they asked him.
"Seems to be."
"Take him," they said, laughing and gesturing to me. "Take him. You, go with him."
"Just go with him. You want to vote on the computer?"
"Why? And is it even working?"
"It's fine. It's fine," he told me. "If you don't like it you can come back and get in line."

What was this? Testing mattresses?

I went with him. Woodrow, a very affable, elderly African-American, seated me at a small desk with slight blinders on the sides and fed a voting form into the machine on the desk.

He said, "You can read, right? Just read the screen. Ask me if you have any questions. It will be fine."

I looked at the machine, made by a company called AutoMark. I realized it was essentially an automated way to fill out a 'handwritten' affidavit ballot, the kind given to people who don't appear on the list of registered voters. Would my vote go into that pile? Would it then even get counted? And would this happen just because I'd been sent to the wrong line and the poll workers didn't want to deal with me?

I stepped easily through the two-way, linear, touch-screen process. It was a simple system that notified you if you tried to move onto the next race without having looked at all the choices for the previous one. And it double checked if you tried to skip a race altogether. But I balked at the multiple listings for some of the candidates. What happens if I voted for Obama/Biden as the Working Families Party? Would that vote stick to the people or the party? Why were Obama/Biden Democrats at the top of the list, followed by three listings for McCain/Palin (Republican/Conservative/Independence)? And why were those four the only choices visible on the first page?

When I finished making my selections, the machine proffered a summary page to review my choices before finalizing them. It then spit the form back out, now blacked in at the appropriate places. Woodrow handed me an envelope -- just like those I'd seen given to the affidavit voters. I filled out my name and address on the envelope, dated and signed it. But what to do about the section that said I "MUST" mark one of three choices, explaining why I was filling an affidavit ballot? I wasn't. None of the choices applied to me.

Woodrow said, "Just write 'BMD'. Even though it says you must choose one, you don't have to."
I thought: Isn't that a surefire way to have my vote disqualified?

I questioned him about it, but he smiled and tried to reassure me. I folded my printout, sealed it in the envelope, after folding it awkwardly because it didn't fit, and handed it back to him. He told me then he'd take it back over to the table, the one with the workers who'd snubbed me.

Dazed, I stood in the hallway of the middle school for a few minutes. What had just happened? When I managed to wander out, I started talking to a young man who had used the computer right after me. He had no idea what had just happened.

He said, "The guy just came over to the line and asked if anyone knew how to use a computer. I raised my hand, and he told me to go with him."

He seemed even less clear than I on how we'd just voted and if we'd managed to disqualify our votes unknowingly and at the hands of the poll workers.

Woodrow was helpful and honest with me. When I asked, he told me he and his wife had had a four-hour training with this BMD ("Ballot Marking Device" " I discovered when I got home and Googled it) and then had operated one during the primaries. He seemed confident. I'm less so. I hadn't even filled in a Voter Card. Would my vote be tossed in with the affidavit ballots of people not on the registered voters list? Does that mean it will be counted? Will it even get into the system? Did this particular BMD make an internal record my vote and store it on its hard-drive? Does it have a hard-drive, or was it just an easier way of marking a 'hand-marked' ballot?

Look, I know that here in Brooklyn a few votes here or there probably won't make a difference nationally. But my experience illustrates some of the grave problems with our hodgepodge election system. Even within one polling place, I witnessed at least three different forms of casting ballots, and at least minor chaos resulted. What could be the result of millions of such places, multiplying each others' errors all over the country?

I also saw three young voters storm out, possibly forever, soured on the whole idea of voting because of the inefficiencies of the system that suddenly seemed to line up with the oppressiveness they'd experienced in previous interactions with the state. And, I had just literally attached my name to my vote. So much for the privilege of the secret ballot.

Yes, this may have taken place in a district that was probably already in the bag for one candidate; but if it happens here it can happen in states with a much closer margin. Obviously, these things degrade our democracy. They depress voter turnout and threaten the chance that the will of the people really be done. This was not voter suppression (though my general impression has been that, historically, Democrats try to get more votes counted and Republicans try to get more votes discounted) but it might as well have been. It may be worse. It's our own incompetence.

Fired up! Ready to go!

Sen. Obama's final pre-vote rally last night, in Manassas, Virginia. No doubt that we need him to lead us.

First Voting Photo of the Day and God Bless Dixville Notch

A couple of you have already sent us comments about your voting experiences -- from Japan to Mississippi to New Jersey -- and if more of you feel so moved to send such things our way, we'd be honored. And if you need to vent your anxiety or share any other thoughts on this exciting, thought-filled day, please do.

Oh, and if you hadn't yet heard, at least two New Hampshire towns have chosen Sen. Obama: He won early-voting and traditionally Republican Dixville Notch, NH, 15-6. Watch the vote count here. And he took Hart's Location with 17 votes to Sen. McCain's 10.

Final Words In This World

Election Eve and I'm scared shitless. Maybe because I think polls are inaccurate, sensationalist crap. Maybe because I've never yet backed a winner for the Presidency. (Admittedly, this is only my third time voting for it.) Maybe I'm hedging my bets, so that a let-down won't hurt so hard. Maybe I'm a pessimist. But, really, I think it's this: A win by Barack Obama would be such an indescribably great and wonderful occurrence that I can't really believe it will happen.

A President Obama would mean so much -- almost, dare I say it, on a cosmic level -- that I find the possibility Nov. 5 could dawn with him as President-elect only fantasy. (What would follow an Obama inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, is a problem for another day. I can't consider policy anymore. For now our universe is a closed system, consisting of one choice. Beyond that, nothing.)

Over the last few weeks I've found myself too sickened, too distraught, too concerned to parse my thoughts or analyze coherently enough to write, thanks to the dastardliness of Mr. McCain's campaign, during which the man sold all his principles; the deja vu of proud ignorance and rabid hatreds riled by Mrs. Palin; the overconfidence of Obama supporters; my constant dread the worst will always happen. Rather than be torn asunder and rabidly consumed by the furor of this violent, national circle jerk, now barreling into climax, I retreated.

While in hiding, I've firmed my belief that polls such as have yanked us around by our collective genitalia for the last months are bunk at their mildest and, at their harshest, severely imperil our political process. I've firmed my belief that we must have a nationally standardized voting process that ensures greater accuracy and transparency. For the Crusaders of Democracy the mechanisms of our own systems cry out embarrassingly for help. So much so that both sides in this election have vociferously called for greater diligence to prevent voter fraud (Republicans) and voter stifling (Democrats).

Yet this need for transparency must extend beyond candidate vetting and campaign finances. It must infuse the White House. And only one of the two campaigns has shown anything other than wretched disregard for transparency, truthfulness and human decency -- and it's not the one that once touted itself as the Straight-Talk Express, an engine than long ago went off the rails. America deserves better.

As we should have learned over the passed eight years, America also deserves a leader who relies more on fact and brainpower than his own arbitrary whims and fantasies. One who actually values the education so-often debated on the campaign trail.

I want a President who is smarter than I am. Someone who understands better than I how to make a government work best for its people and the world. One who is better educated and a better diplomat.

If you consider casting your vote for the guy who seems just like you (despite his several homes and numerous cars), consider this: Do you really think you should be President? If you think one guy is better to have a beer with, go drink with him, but for God's sake don't vote for him. (Anyway, he'll have more time for that drink with you if he's not busy running the country.)

Give me a public servant with a brain and with knowledge. And give me one who wants to help people -- not one who thinks war and the enforcement of a unilateral morality are the sole purposes of government. Not one who incites hatred and anger but one who values peace and co-existence, so that We the People can simply enjoy our rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. How do you expect a President to educate our children well, so they can compete in the world, when he did his damndest to get expelled from the institution of higher learning to which his family legacy handed him admission -- and who now mocks people who have worked hard for, earned and utilize an American education?

Electing Obama would be so great in large part because of what he represents. Not as the USA's first non-white President (though that would be historic and important) but because, despite what culture-war mongers like Sarah Palin would have you believe, he truly represents the best of America. Not only the part of it the Republican candidate for Vice President called the 'real America', but the expansive, encompassing, living, breathing, roaring underdog-mutt of a nation that we are. Obama is pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps; he represents the best of America and would best and most effectively represent us to the world -- and run our country.

After all, the Presidency is not an honor to be earned. Which candidate deserves the office more is a malignant consideration. The Presidency is not an honor. It's a job. You don't hand an old-timer the reigns of your company based on what he's given to the place. It's not an honorary position. You hand the job to the candidate who will not only represent the best of the company and stay truest to its mission but will best guide the company day-by-day towards its greatest potential. Don't vote for John McCain because he 'deserves' to be President. If you wish to truly honor his decades of service to America give him what he's earned: a rest.

In a few hours, we, the great, brash American experiment will launch ourselves onto a new vessel, in hopes it will serve us better than our current sinking wreck, as we continue our heaving and rising and plunging through ever-turbulent seas. Which of the two proffered ships will we choose to carry us onward?

Despite my raging doubts, I hope that as you read this you're visualizing your recently passed or soon-to-come trip to the voting booth and are eagerly awaiting 7 p.m. EST when the first polls close. As we sit poised on the edge of a potential turning point for our country and our time, I sit and hope that we as a nation put our collective balls on the table and take a step towards the future and not the past, a step towards change in which even I can believe.