June 27, 2012

Confessions of an Election Day volunteer

Election day is a microcosm of the whole race, and our own individual decisions can reflect what we know and what we value.

I love helping out on campaigns. I'm not talking about collecting the big checks or taking out the full-page ads from behind a comfy desk. I mean going out and getting voters to turn out, one by one. Picking up and dropping off volunteers, especially the union stalwarts who just show up -- no matter what. Knocking on doors and reminding people. And even dealing with the hard-working kings for a day, the election day field organizers (having been one myself on occasion). Senior Hill staffers and college students all popping in to do whatever it takes, with rank and privilege irrelevant. Well, ALMOST irrelevant.

Back in 1988, I spent several weeks on my first New Hampshire Primary campaign. Very long days, late-night beers, and frigid nights sleeping on a succession of floors and sofas in the homes of local supporters. Waking up every day long before dawn, feeling soooo cold. Brrrrr! Fun, and fulfilling, right down to pouring wiper fluid across the windshield just to get some visibility. Going door-to-door in waist-high snow, and driving around on streets with a permanent layer of unmelting, compacted snow. Real enthusiasm, and seemingly endless energy. But we get older and -- just possibly -- wiser.

I remember being out late the night before Primary Day in New Hampshire some years later, and the very junior field office coordinator sent us out to do one more round of door hangers, at close to midnight the night before the Big Day. My friend and I were driving down dark, frozen streets (February, you know), and sliding across the thick ice to hang leaflets on people's doors. Realizing that in a few hours we'd be getting up to start the 15-hour campaign marathon, we gave up after hitting only a few dozen. Could we have kept going all night? Sorry, not on the say-so of a 19-year-old.

Flash-forward to this afternoon. I made my way to the outer boroughs of New York to help out on a primary race, going door-to-door as assigned. Trying to follow a list that was so poorly tabulated that -- more than once! -- husband and wife living at the same address were listed on separate pages, I probably wasted one-third of the valuable pre-dinner time slot. Nevertheless, I slogged on as long as I could, then checked back in before making the long drive home to tag-team my kids to bed. It would mean missing the final few hours, as well as the big post-election victory (hopefully) party. Yet again.

This time, the field office warned that the race was looking very close, and with turnout so low REALLY every single vote would count -- we were all needed to go back and do another pass over dinnertime. I probably would have done it, too, if not for my personal childcare mandate. I dropped off some more personnel and literature on my way back home -- no regrets. The campaign photo shows the candidate with his own kids, and he ended up winning by a landslide. And even if he hadn't...

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