A short while before the election I was asked to be a volunteer voter protection lawyer for the Obama campaign. I picture
the campaign staff thinking “we need someone to spend all day sitting on a folding chair, drinking coffee, eating donuts and
watching 607 people slide ballots into an optical scanning machine.” Naturally my name came up. Since I am always willing
to take a donut for the team, I agreed.
The training had me worried about getting a frosty reception from precinct
officials and the night before I kept dreaming of confrontations I would have to deal with. I arrived at the polling place,
a recreation center in Winston-Salem, N.C. at 6:15 a.m. All of the precinct workers were friendly; there was no trace of stink-eye
Things were busy in the morning with about 70 voters an hour going through, that kept up until a little before noon.
After that there was rarely a long line. I think the longest wait all day was 30 minutes. The only kink was when the scanner
stopped working for a little bit because of a loose connection. The poll workers got it straightened out fairly quickly.
best part of the day was watching the voters. There were all shapes, sizes and ages. Lots of people brought young children
and babies. There were lots of older voters who had to go to a lot of trouble to vote, often using canes or walkers. At least
10 people voted curbside. There was not a large black presence among the voters, maybe about 10 percent. I spent a few minutes
talking with brothers, one in second grade and the other in fourth. I asked what they thought about the election and was impressed
that both knew about the candidates and even talked about the Libertarian party. The public education system is not failing
those two. Seeing that over and over made me feel that I was seeing the best of America. Election day gives us a chance to
break out of our usual circle of friends and family. I overheard a woman who described herself as a “very religious” home
schooler having a conversation with a man said he did not believe in God, but did believe in poltergeists. I talked with a
hard-core Republican who thought that global warming was a hoax, but who was trying to convince major car makers to build
vehicles powered by natural gas.
About 5 people cast provisional ballots because their names did not appear on the
rolls apparently caused by confusion about a change of address. For a while when it was busy, I volunteered to hand out “I
I was impressed by the hard work of the election judges. The only dispute involved one voter who showed
up minutes after the poll closing was announced. One judge wanted to let her vote, the chief judge said no, arguing that the
rules must be enforced.
By the time the poll closed 607 people had voted. I had not had to protect any voters.
I was an Obama supporter I am happy with the result. I think Obama can be a great president. I agree that saying that Obama
is post-racial or transcends race is farcical
. This country will not be post-racial in my lifetime or the lifetime of anyone alive now. About a year ago, I was at the
courthouse sitting around drinking coffee in a tiny room the lawyers share when a friend announced that was not going to vote
because it did not make any difference. He said no matter who he voted for that after the election he would still be sitting
at the same table with the cup of coffee, smoking and waiting for his cases to be called. I don’t agree with not voting but
there is some truth to what he said. While lots of people are excited about a new day in America, I still have clients in
jail who have bleak pasts and bleak futures. This country remains indifferent to the problems that doom too many young black
men to spend much of their lives in prison. We ignore them when they are young and then pay a fortune to incarcerate them
in their teens, twenties and thirties. Those problems are not going anywhere soon.
As for what I hope the new president
accomplishes I will be pretty happy if his administration just avoids a series of major disasters. If a “cancer on the presidency”
doomed Nixon, I would describe the Bush administrations as “plumb eat up with the dumbass.”
Abu Ghraib, hiring trigger-happy mercenaries/contractors in Iraq, Katrina, the airport screening mess,
the US Attorney firings, the constitution free zone of Guantanamo Bay, tortured definitions of torture, signing statements
all traceable to the fact that Bush never cared very much about governing except as a means to reward those who placed him
in office. If Obama can just not screw up, there will be a huge improvement.