Iowa: How the vote was won

The view from the front line

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Voting is relatively light, but I am working like a demon, processing paperwork for three or four EDRs at a time. When the desk is crowded with people filling out forms, I work the line, handing out forms and explaining procedures so they will be ready when they reach the desk. The main desk is having problems getting voters back and forth to my desk, so I am relocated to center court. Everything is now revolving around me. By 9am I have processed dozens of EDRs.

That causes a new problem. The Republican headquarters sees the early statistics online and objects. They claim our precinct has a disproportionate number of EDRs. They think a massive, coordinated fraud is occurring - that the whole precinct is conspiring to give ballots to unqualified voters. So they send two more poll watchers to watch me specifically. They take seats directly to the left and right of me. They watch my every move, waiting to catch me committing fraud or making errors, hoping they can challenge a voter and deny them a ballot.

But I am applying the law scrupulously and fairly. I turn away a few EDRs due to inadequate ID, I recommend they run home and return with more documentation. The precinct is small so most of them return in minutes and go on to vote. A few are indignant over the extra hassles, but I assure them we must apply the law correctly in order to ensure that everyone's vote will count.

The poll watchers observe me closely for six hours. They cannot believe what they are seeing. There is a line of EDRs at my desk, it never ends, but I am working at an incredible pace. I have studied these procedures in the back office for over a week and nobody is waiting in line more than 15 minutes. This is not a massive fraud, it is just one person - me - furiously working the system as it was designed.

The poll watchers are not supposed to talk to me, but they begin to chat and I am surprised to discover they admire what I am doing. One of them says he has never seen someone work so hard. He asks me what I am doing after the election, I tell him I am going back to freelance writing, in other words unemployment. He then surprises me with an offer of a clerical job at his business. I am not sure if I want to work for an agent of the GOP's voter suppression army, and I am definitely fed up with clerical work, so I respond noncommittally. But inside, I am laughing - he has admitted defeat. By 3pm the poll-watchers give up and leave the precinct.

Late in the evening, only four EDRs have not yet returned with more documentation. At 8:55pm, one final EDR returns, the last voter of the day, and we all burst into applause!

I regret not being able to save every voter, but those I could not save sacrificed their votes on behalf of the others. If I did not turn away EDRs as required by law, if I had stretched the rules, the poll-watchers could have shut me down and stopped me from re-enfranchising all the others. At the end of the day, I have rescued about 25 per cent of all votes cast in my precinct by re-registering them as EDRs.

Everyone has worked to exhaustion, but there is no time to lose, we must close the polls and report the results before we can leave. The sooner we finish, the sooner we go home. But we are all overtired and this is all taking far too long. It is 10:30pm before the final task begins: recording the write-in votes. I have been loafing so I am assigned this onerous task, since nobody wants to do it.

I am prohibited by law from disclosing what I saw on the ballots, other than the write-in names (which are a public record). I hope what I saw is merely representative of a small fraction of lunatic voters who are crazy enough to use write-in votes. I record four Ron Paul votes and several prank votes including Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. These write-in votes will be dutifully reported to the public in a table, as a number in a column labeled "WI". indistinguishable from one another.

Called for Obama

As we completed the final tasks, I noticed the gymnasium janitors are waiting to lock up the building, and they are watching the election returns on TV in the next room. I can hear speeches and the distant voices of Obama and McCain, but I can't make out what they are saying. I go in to watch the TV. Statistics stream across the screen but I am unable to make sense of any of it. The janitor tells me that Iowa was called for Obama at 9pm when the polls closed. Obama is so heavily favored in Iowa that the TV pundits report his victory without waiting for the results. But while we still labored to count the votes, Obama has been declared the President-Elect. It is a landslide.

I have told this story not to boast of my own actions, as I can scarcely believe an amateur like me is allowed to be of service. I wrote this to honor the voters, elected officials and their deputies, and the system that allows anyone to get involved and maintain our rights to vote. Of myself I have done nothing - I have merely acted as the laws decreed. Many other PEOs have done what I have done, and more. In 2012, another dedicated PEO will take my place. Now the election is over and I have been cut loose. I turned in my Precinct Elections Official badge, I no longer serve any purpose to the State of Iowa. My job is done. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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