When I arrived at the 31st precinct (State College West – 1) at 6:45am to begin working as a poll watcher for the Obama campaign, they had already been lined up for a half an hour. Fathers with their daughters, young students and retired professors, mother’s with their children, all waiting to begin voting in the 2008 Presidential election.
They came in a steady stream from the moment the doors opened at 7am until 11:20am, at which point we signed in our 300th voter. Shirley, a longtime poll worker in the precinct, reported that 300 is usually a good number for when the polls close. (It seems that there are about 700 voters registered in the precinct, so by 11:15 over 40% had already voted.) Shirley said she had never seen it this busy. One 74 year old voter said that in all his years here, he had never waited in line as long as he had this year. Everyone was in a good mood and the voting went smoothly. There were a large number of first time voters and voters who had been inactive in recent elections.
My job was to write down the voter numbers of those who had voted so that a runner could pick up the list and bring it back to the Obama campaign. They had a list of targeted voters who the campaign was calling if they had not yet voted. It was, again, all very organized.
By noon, when Val and the girls came to pick me up, almost 400 people had voted, and I left to drive one of my colleagues to her polling place so she could vote. When we arrived a little past 1pm at the Knights of Columbus on Stratford Ave, where the 19th and the 22nd precincts were voting, there was a huge line waiting to vote. Actually, the line for the 22nd precinct, which covers an area where a lot of students live, was very long. The line for the 19th, which is were my colleague, Véronique votes, the line was short.
This suggests that the student turnout is extremely high, which is a very good sign for Obama. Obama campaign volunteers from New York and elsewhere were managing the line, making sure each person was on the proper line. They had access to laptops on which they double checked people’s precinct to make sure they only waited on line if they were to vote in the 22nd district.
During the course of the morning, I was struck by how important this entire process is. Here were people, each concerned enough about our community to come out and have their voice heard. When I finally had a chance to stand in front of my own ballot, I was moved to be able to fill in the circle for Barack Obama. I paused over it, taking special care to make sure the circle was perfectly filled in, that all was in order before it was scanned. As I filled in that circle, I recalled the words Obama spoke the night he won the Iowa primary last January: “They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to come together around a common purpose…” Perhaps today, our day has finally come.