Election day

I got off to a late start on election day, after staying up until 2am the night before working on the database with Ken. But I got over to HQ by 10am, and immediately left with Ken and Brian. It had been decided that Brian and I, as the out-of-towner carpetbaggers, should be running tech support, while the locals did the canvassing, since they actually knew people. There were two main precincts we wanted to cover, First Church and the Oberlin Public Library, because those two precincts were where the majority of Oberlin students would be voting. So Brian and I each took a laptop and a printer, and headed off with Ken.

It’s raining and miserable and gray. And yet, when we get to the library, there’s a line out the door of people waiting to vote. Way out the door. Like a block out the door. Yikes. We got Brian set up and trained on what we wanted him to do, and then Ken and I went over to First Church, which had a similar scene. It turns out that the Board of Elections didn’t believe Ken when he warned them that there would be a massively increased voter turnout, so they hadn’t gotten extra voting machines. I heard that the line at First Church was already over an hour long when the polls opened at 6:30am, and by the time we got there a little after 10am, the line was over 3 hours. Unbelievable.

First Church was kind enough to let us use their back office, so I set up back there. And we waited for the 11am distribution of voter lists. Unfortunately, it got delayed. The poll workers were swamped just trying to help people vote, and didn’t have time to make the list until around 12:30pm. We finally got it, I entered the 215 voters and generated lists of non-voters for the volunteers to track down. Turnaround time: 20 minutes. Much better than it would have been trying to do it by hand. I sent it off with a volunteer, who took it back to headquarters so that the remaining people can be contacted.

By the afternoon, the line was over five hours long. The church opened up the church hall itself so that people wouldn’t have to wait in the rain, and all of the pews are filled with people waiting to vote. But it’s all still relaxed. People were sticking around.

And then the community started really coming together. Folks who had already voted started buying food and water and making sure the people in line were well supplied. Others donated halloween candy, or baked goods. People stepped up and provided entertainment – there were students practicing in line. Plus, the organist came by and gave an impromptu concert to the people waiting in the hall. Then when he got tired, he contacted his organ students and told them that if they wanted any practice time on the organ the rest of the year, they needed to stop by and play this afternoon. First Church had turned into what the church secretary dubbed a “vote-in”. It’s a big party. It was so impressive that a Cleveland news crew came by and got some footage, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer sent a reporter down to observe the party.

Because the rules say that if you’re in line by 7:30pm, you get to vote no matter how long it takes, Oberlin Votes! embarked on trying to make sure everybody will be in line by then, and then figuring out how to make sure everybody in line gets fed, ordering pizza, etc. First order of business was getting them in line.

The 4pm lists of who’s voted never came out for the big precincts – they were just too swamped. We did generate a couple new lists for smaller precincts – in one of them, we had 303 people on our list, and 222 or so of them had voted by 4pm, with only 10 students among the non-voters. Megan, the Ohio PIRG coordinator, saw this and her eyes lit up. She grabbed the list saying that she was going to get every last one of them. At that point, our job in tech support was done, so Brian and I packed up from our respective precincts and headed over to the Oberlin Votes! headquarters at Wilder Hall on campus.

Which was a madhouse. There were probably a dozen volunteers making phone calls, from cell phones, and from every campus phone they could find. As I wandered the halls, I saw people making calls from a phone booth and from the phone in the computer cluster. It was pretty amazing. Plus, there were many more volunteers running around knocking on doors.

As far as we could tell, by 6:30pm, we had achieved total saturation. Between all of the calling and door-knocking that was being done, I think we had found only one or two people that hadn’t voted. In fact, by the end, the phone bank was contacting more people who were calling other people (as in “Hi, this is from Oberlin Votes! Have you voted today?” “Yes, I’ve voted, and I’m actually volunteering and calling people myself.” “Oops.”) than they did non-voters in that last hour before the polls closed at 7:30. Brian related the story of walking down the hall of a dorm, seeing a woman, calling out “Have you voted yet?”. She walked by him, said “I have mono, I’m really sick” as she fled for her room. I guess she’d been asked too many times. But she’s the only student non-voter that we know about.

At 7:30, we’d done all we could. Nobody else was going to be allowed to join the line. But there were still huge lines at First Church and the Library waiting for their chance to vote. We checked in, and asked if they needed food or anything, but by that time, word had spread even further, and apparently local busineses were chipping in to feed the line. The last voter at the library was Ken, who got in line at the last minute, and ended up voting at around 8:30. The church took even longer – the last voter got through a little after 10pm, and the local news crew apparently interviewed them on camera.

Then we retired to Ken’s place for the party. Yay.