03 April 2014

COLUMBUS, OH I arrived at the Free Press office with two six-packs of Newcastle and a flask full of good bourbon whiskey, prepared for whatever ill assignments may be levied in my direction. Dr. Bob was hurrying off to school, declining the beer, but they sent me to the Sullivant Gardens to cover the polling. Today is March 4th and, by all counts, the most important day of the campaign since Super Tuesday. Perhaps it is even more important, because for those of us who were paying attention, the results of Super Tuesday were a foregone conclusion, but today all the weirdness really manifested itself and the race for the presidency is in full swing. If Hillary Clinton can hang on to any of these critical states, Texas, Ohio, Vermont or Rhode Island, than she will almost certainly press on until the final stupidity and those of us hungry for Political Entertainment will get a brokered convention.



Suzanne, Dr. Bob's number one, assigned me a videographer, a man by the name of John. John is an anarchist, and completely disinterested in the results of the election; we are here now at Victorian's Midnight Cafe and he is napping quietly in the booth next to mine. He was a Good Sport, however, taking my 45 MPH cornering in stride, although not without spilling beer all over the interior of my car as we blasted through Bexley.



Bexley, though, is in the complete opposite direction from Sullivant Gardens. A high speed arruba and we sped back toward the west side. Neither John nor I had any real idea where we were going, and so I utilized my normal tactic of making near-random turns until we found what we were looking for, or at least something equivalent.



The hour was getting late, so we stopped at the Trevitt Elementary school on Main St. and went inside to investigate their polling procedures. The school principal did not like my attitude and called me rude; I told her to give me a detention and brushed past. It seems some things never change; I have yet to find a school administrator who didn't think I was a vile little shit.



The polling room was in the school's library, and it was quiet. Poll workers described steady spurts throughout the day, but Finland Middle School had far more checks and tallies on the voter turn-out sheets at 11:00 this morning than did Trevitt Elementary. I also realized that there were check-marks (and 'x's) all over the pages of the turn-out record, which by law must be posted in a conspicuous place; no consistency as to where the indicating marks were being made, which suggests to me a general lack of training. Poll workers said that their training had consisted of classes two hours a day for three days with refresher courses available. One worker anonymously said that she would have liked more training, with more 'hands-on' instruction.



I also noted that the provisional ballots (which are paper ballots) were placed in the same box as non-provisional paper ballots (i.e. 'requested' paper ballots). The provisional ballots were placed into bright yellow envelopes. These would in theory be separated later and the non-provisional ballots would be counted tonight.



We had our fill and prepared to leave. My logistics team was waiting outside. I got the impression that he had been out there for a while, as he was soaking wet and fast asleep. I roused him and got him into the car.



As we left Victorian's Midnight Cafe, we ran into Fifth Avenue Elementary School, which happened to be a polling location in front of which I had parked. We decided to go in and check it out but we found a sign on the door saying the polling location had been moved to Thompson Recreational Center. We gave directions to one elderly gentleman so he could find his new polling place; he had no idea that it had changed locations. A large man bearing a cane, he eased himself back into his car, trying to avoid slipping in the driving rain, and drove off; we drove immediately to the Thompson Recreational Center but he never showed up. Perhaps he was unable to find it.



The folks at Thompson seemed especially well-organized. I recognized several of the poll workers as activists and local miscreants, including one Eric Nassau, a local musician. I had heard from another voter that Mike Rock, the locally famous bass player, was working the provisional ballot table at the Greek Orthodox Church down by the North Market...I appreciate my local celebs taking these kinds of roles.



Again, though, all paper ballots were going into the same box. This is not a breach of protocol, but it seems like a questionable practice, when a simple solution is having separate boxes for provisional and non-provisional paper ballots, rather than placing them in them same box and running the risk of confusion, or worse.



We left the Thompson Recreation Center with a feeling of ease and contentment; the numbers were high, around 600 reporting by 3:00 p.m. We decided to try to find the site of our actual assignment, the Sullivan Gardens Recreation Center down in the black bottoms. We drove my poor Honda until the fuel light came on; the windows were entirely fogged up due to the extra moisture from the constant rain and the extra mouth of Anarchist John, breathing heavily as he slept. Every so often I would swerve violently or roll down the window to wake him up. I wasn't lonely, but resentful...John wasn't the only dumb punk who had had too much to drink while meandering around the Greater Columbus area.



The center, up the road from Cooper stadium and adjacent to the Mount Calvary cemetery, was not exactly the easiest spot to find; I could smell the water in the exhaust fumes coming from my car. We were damn near out of gas. I backed the car into the parking spot; I had been doing it all day in case we had to make a hasty exit. It turned out to be a very good idea.



The investigation began innocently enough; we introduced ourselves and began to ask questions. This precinct was even more obscenely inconsistent; thankfully they had not given anyone a regular paper ballot, because the presiding judge said they would put all paper ballots in the bright yellow envelopes intended for provisional ballots. They would then be placed in the same box...in the same envelopes.



I looked at her skeptically. “Really? Can you say all that again?”


One of her minions came running up then, brimming with righteousness and wrath. “We was told to not talk to the press. She's the presiding judge, but I done this before and she ain't. They told us not to talk to you.”


“Who told you not to talk to the press?”


She put her hands on her hips. “The Board of Elections. They said you might come in here and look around and that we wasn't to talk to you.”


“Fine, miss,” I replied. “You don't have to talk to me. Neither have I asked you to interrupt, though; I was talking to your boss here.” I turned my back on her and continued talking to the presiding judge. Fuming, she ran off, muttering threats about calling the Board of Elections.


“So, what would you do if I came in here and voted with a provisional ballot?” I asked.


“I would say, thank you for coming out and voting.”

“What would you give me?” I asked.

“A sticker?” She seemed puzzled. “That's it. There's nothing else to give!”


I pointed to the untouched stack of Provisional Ballot Instructions. “Those sheets of paper give provisional voters the phone numbers and dates necessary to verify that their vote was counted, and to provide identification information if they were unable to do so at the poll. Every voter who takes a provisional ballot should get one of these.”


She was mad now, and took a step closer to me. “Are you here to ask questions or to challenge me? Her eyes were blazing; who was this fedora-wearing hack to come into Her domain and tell her what to do? “Not everyone gets one of those.”


I circled the emboldened, italicized text at the top of the instruction sheet. “Please give to every voter using a provisional ballot.” She leaned closer to see what I was pointing at and then jumped back with a low, guttural cry. Crouching low, she bared her teeth like a wild animal.


“You smell like alcohol!”

Completely taken aback, I saw everyone in the room suddenly rest their gaze on me. “Well, sure I do. I have been drinking.”

“You smell like alcohol!” Suddenly there were two more minions, all of them chanting in unison: “If you would like the number to the Board of Elections, they will answer your questions...If you would like the number to the Board of Elections, they will answer you questions...”


The scent of blood was heavy in the air and I saw that it was time to flee. What would Bob Fitrakis do in a situation like this? Dr. Bob is a big man; he might be able to hold his own against this pack of poll witches. I could not. I shouted at Anarchist John, rousing him from deep slumber. I hoped desperately that he would have the sense to follow my lead and back away toward the door. Turn your back, and they will pounce and stomp on your balls. I vaguely recalled Dr. Bob regaling me with terrifying accounts from El Salvador, poll workers with fur and claws and someone throwing large rocks at him...we ran when we cleared the door.


Goddamn, what does this all mean? I am looking back over this madness, watching Wolf Blitzer try to make some sense of the debacle here and in Texas, where Clinton is steadily closing the gap. It is now a dead heat, 49% to 49%, with 2% of Democrats confused and trying to vote for Ron Paul. How has this happened? Obama's camp is declaring irregularity in the polling, despite the fact the many of his supporters broke rules concerning campaigning within 100 ft of polling places and trying to leverage last-minute appointments as observers. I have been calling a 5-point spread for Obama for weeks now, and it seems as though that was wrong...but by these ungodly margins? 12 points, Really? It doesn't seem reasonable, not with the weather and the early voting taken into account. Bad weather should keep the elder folks at home; they would have voted by and large for Hilary Clinton. The early vote tallies are relatively large, especially is some counties; Barack Obama had been urging his supporters to vote early so that they would be able to help out on March 4th.


I am not sure who was more incompetent today; our crack journalistic team or the cranks running the polls. I do not mind being wrong on this one, though; I would be delighted to see Clinton recover her derailed campaign and continue on. Go all the way! Give me a brokered convention in Denver. This would also increase the amount of time we have direct leverage on the candidates...we may have seen twenty democratic debates, but it has been quite some time since we heard discourse on education.


Besides, a brokered convention is a wet dream to a masochist like myself. It could go on for days, with everyone involved breaking down into hardcore alcohol abuse after twelve hours, and the most embittered speeches slurred from the lips of every hack who wants to say something while 200 feet tall. Mickey Mouse will be nominated for Vice President by Mike Gravel again, just like '72...