Or: "I observed the polls in Reno, just to watch them vote ..."
Every occupation has its foibles and conceits. I will freely admit that mine has earned its share of those ‘so-called-lawyer-jokes.’ * That said, I want to report on two occurrences just this week that have inspired some measure of pride. Today’s edition is personal (sorry, Doug).
I am blogging to you from the Sparks, NV public library, an early-voting polling place. My presence here was facilitated by Facebook friend Kitty Jung, to whom I communicated frustration about nothing to do during the campaign season. Fair California is deep blue, and candidates only appear here to pick-up their allowance. Kitty is a CA-native, a Washoe County Commissioner, and a rising star in Silver State politics.
She put me in-touch with an outlet for similarly discontented California attorneys, a virtual plague of whom are descending on the Reno and Las Vegas environs to monitor for voting problems. These might include eligibility challenges, intimidation, mistakes in application of relevant law, electioneering inside the secular sanctity of the polls and a host of other issues.
We were trained-up and assigned times and places during Nevada’s ample early-voting period (most days from 10/22 through 11/4), as well as on Election Day itself (the 8th). You may believe it as you will – although we are partisan “Observers,” our mandate is to maximize legitimate poll access, regardless of the voters’ likely preferences.
Just last week, some thinly-veiled bellicosities added spice to the impending assignments. Would we arrive to a gaggle of wannabe goons clucking about outside the library? I did take some comfort in the fact that ‘open carry’ apparently does not extend to the insides of government buildings in the state. The mental image of that ragtag moblet of malcontents at the Oregon wildlife refuge, however, was never far from my consciousness.
I’m pleased to report that this exercise in the most fundamental democratic process has gone pretty smoothly over these several days of ‘observing.’ No goons – not even any observers from the GOP side of the national house. ‘My’ poll workers have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no political axe to grind – they’ve worked their way through a number of identification and other issues, all with no apparent regard to status factors or the likely sympathies of those affected.
There have been a few matters of electioneering within the poll radius – a Trump button, for instance, and a similar t-shirt. We’d been advised to bring a large, blank sweatshirt to assist with such matters, which we provided to Ms. T-shirt to ensure her exercise of the privilege (amid her grumbles -- if Hillary loses Nevada by one vote, I may have a few regrets). We also heard of another place where a woman arrived wearing kitty ears and whiskers, and a t-shirt reading “This pussy fights back.” That shirt, too, required covering, but we had a few instances of just kitty ears that passed muster – it’s nearly Hallowe’en, after all.
There is some evidence that folks are on-edge. Granted that we are dealing with a primarily older population (available to vote during week days) – and elders are inclined toward gripe-age. Frustration seemed to lurk just below the surface, as whenever there was a voter whose ID was not current, or one poor soul whose registration could not be located (he’d registered too late, but he fervently wanted to vote, and appeared to be in chronic physical pain – every picture tells a story, and his was past poignant). Another voter was visibly relieved and delighted to know we were there, and which campaign we represented.
The skewed sample we’ve seen of Renoans suggests a population that is unpretentious, patient, openly friendly and informal, a little drab, and in apparently poor health. Mobility is a big problem there, with canes walkers and oxygen bottles aplenty -- and there’s no large group in which I ought to be among the skinnier members. There was also ample evidence of real community – a less self-absorbed population with time for each other: sons and daughters assisting elderly parents, friends helping friends and parents bringing kids to watch them vote.
Each polling place has set records for every day we’ve observed – perhaps people had been told that the TV ads would stop as soon as they’d voted? The totals have been at least 10-15% above 2012 numbers, and one early percentage breakdown I saw went 52D/30R/18 Independent.
Enjoying dinner and the World Series with a few other California ex-pats, we talked about our impressions. The absence of GOP volunteers seems to prove-out the notion of chaos in those campaigns – Nevada is an important state in both the Presidential and Senate sweepstakes, yet nobody from the Trump campaign was there, anywhere. Things may change by-or-on Election Day (by which time 2/3 of the votes will have been cast), but campaigns require organization, and not much was evident on the other side.
So, is it all worth it? Yes, we concluded, on many levels. It is thrilling in a way to see the process work the way it’s supposed-to – all those Civics you once learned, in-action. Early voting, too, is popular and thus useful to maximize turnout, which is an absolutely Good Thing. I also think that the ritual of in-person voting is an important American tradition that binds us together, especially vs. the sterility of mail-in balloting. Sometimes, you just have to slow down and act like a citizen with a stake in our nation.
Poll-watching per se is worth it, as well, despite the absence of chicanery, or even much uncertainty in the processes. We were there, as volunteers, if needed. Our presence added an extra layer of assurance regarding access and procedures – especially for newer voters.
Finally, in this uber-contentious year, I’d like to believe we provided a helpful re-assurance for some that this process is safe, certain – and scrupulously fair. There's a place for lawyers -- it may not be every place or all the time, but I think we performed a public service in the here, and now.
* Here’s a compendium. In the interest of equal time: what’s the difference between a doctor and God?