May 20, 2003

scenes from a primary

It's late, but it looks as if our candidate won. It is possible to go up against the old party machine and win. Grass roots organization, hard work, and enthusiasm can do it. Nothing like an upset to renew your hopes for democracy. We're going to have a very different school board...

Midway through the day it began to pour rain, and kept raining pretty steadily until the polls closed. It is still raining. And cold. I don't know how it affected turnout, but clearly enough people who cared came out and pulled the right lever.

Mark and I worked at a polling place in a part of town known to support the entrenched opponent. The voters were mostly senior citizens, black and white - the site, a public housing high rise. What scenes do I remember? The amount of teasing and chatter going on. The young constable (wearing the opponent's t-shirt) telling me that the opponent "walks the line, very close to the line." I think he was talking both about her racism, and perhaps her ethics. But he was careful not to be specific, and I was careful not to press for details. His job is determined by patronage, but I had a sense that he might not have voted along all the party endorsements, even though he was handing out party slate cards.

What else? Standing my ground when the judge of elections didn't want to let us in to watch the count and tally. I was cheerful while he spent a very long time reading my credentials, but I didn't give up, and he couldn't legally kick us out. The voting machines are large brown metal booths, solid and institutional. Each of them produces a large (looked roughly three foot by seven foot) piece of paper, on which all the votes have been marked by the machine in faint gray numbers. It's a mechanical recording process. No names are used on the giant sheet, so you have to know your candidate's lever in order to follow what's going on during the counting. The votes are read off the paper and recorded, and then the recorded totals for each sheet are added to tally the total votes for a given candidate. "Seven E: two plus six is eight." "Eight." "Eight." "Eight." The other sworn election officials nod and write down the number. I make a note on the back of a poll card, and by careful listening am able to leave with an exact count. The opponent wins, but by only nine votes - this in her stronghold. We have very good news to bring to the post-election party.

But I think the moment I'll remember for the longest had nothing to do with voting at all. An elderly woman - slightly tipsy (she'd been celebrating her birthday - June 4th) had been talking and laughing with us outside the poll. Lots of opinions. Lots of sentiment. Not incoherant but not quite together, either. Somehow, just as the poll was closing, she began singing "I did it my way." No one was outside but Mark and me, and we began singing with her. She knew all the words, and we did what we could - even threw in a little harmony. "Ol' blue eyes," she said, "he was the best."

Posted by EGP at May 20, 2003 11:41 PM


You put in words pretty much my whole evening last night (except for the party, which for me consisted of drinking good beer and talking about punk rock with John Zedolik). One point of clarification is that I was the one who started "My Way" by humming the tune, and then I was joined by the two of you.

Posted by: Mark at May 21, 2003 9:15 PM

Thanks! I stand corrected. (And the tune is still in my head, thank you very much - but I think it is the Sid Vicious cover and not the original.)

Posted by: EGP at May 21, 2003 9:24 PM