Thursday, August 7, 2008

Swinging From A Swing State!

This week's post is being brought to you from Northern Virginia, battle-ground central, where I'll be volunteering for the Obama campaign for the next week. If you follow the polls as obsessively as I do, you probably already know Virginia is very much in play. If Obama takes this state, it'll make history, since Virginia hasn't voted for a Democratic President since Lyndon Johnson took the state in 1964.

The campaign is concentrating it's efforts in what's known as "northern" Virginia, the region that borders Washington D.C. This area has always been more progressive than the rest of the state, but that trend has accelerated exponentially with the explosive growth of the high tech industry. The campaign is hoping to add 150,000 new voters to the 147,000 they've already registered between now and the October 6th deadline.

This massive effort has the Republicans running scared.

According to The Washington Post, GOP operatives in Virginia are raising the spectre of "a very serious and troubling trend" of registration fraud.

"In Virginia, as in other states, loads of first-time voters are registering to cast ballots in the fall elections. Through the first six months of this year, 147,000 people, almost half under the age of 25, registered in the commonwealth, a figure that election officials say is unprecedented. As registration drives accelerate, including those run by the Barack Obama campaign and its allies, it's no wonder that Republicans are increasingly anxious about retaining their hold on a state that GOP presidential candidates have carried since 1968. What is surprising is their utterly baseless charge of "coordinated and widespread voter fraud . . . throughout Virginia."

The Post calls these accusations for what they are, voter suppression.

Folks, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Turnout of newly registered voters will likely determine the outcome in November. Unprecedented voter registration means unprecedented attempts to suppress turnout.

And, unfortunately, newly registered voters are the most likely to be successfully turned away at the polls.


Because newly registered voters are more likely to be so-called "low information" voters, or at the very least, inexperienced. They don't know what their rights are, and the system is gamed against them.

Again, from The Washington Post, in an article describing the hurdles the campaign will have in turning out the African American vote:

For many of these disengaged people, racial solidarity with Obama does not automatically trump apathy or despair. Even if volunteers manage to get them registered, it will require intensive follow-up to make sure they know where to vote, have the necessary identification and then turn out.

So as (Amanda) Bass, (a volunteer for Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign) worked in 93-degree heat to canvass the bus stop in Macon, Ga -- which sits in front of a defunct railroad station that still has the words "Colored Waiting Room" etched above an archway -- she had to deploy a full range of tools. She linked the election to local issues such as rising bus fares. She chatted up people even after they said no, hoping to establish a connection for later. She deftly turned the flirtations of young men back to the task at hand.

Latasha Edwards, 20, a college student in lime flip-flops, flatly said that her vote would not make a difference. "There are a million other people on Earth," she said.

As someone who was on the ground in 04, whose job it was to follow up with first time voters in downtown Las Vegas, I saw this same scenario over and over again.

Most of these first time voters have enormous pressures competing for their time that can block their ability to vote. Day-to-day pressures such as lack of transportation (having to get up before dawn to catch a bus clear across town to get to a minimum wage job and not getting home until after the polls close), childcare issues (nobody to watch the kids even if Mom or Dad can make it back in time from work to wait in line at the polls to vote), confusion about polling places (because an underemployed first-time voter has had to move from one neighborhood to another since registering to vote), no voter i.d. (no driver's license) and lack of information (because the person has no phone or internet access so it's difficult to follow up with them)..................

I could go on, but you get the idea.

On election day, we'll need each and every one of you to do GOTV. We'll need you to walk miles to check in personally with first-time voters, we'll need you to drive them to the polls, and then maybe drive them all the way across town to get them to work, we'll need you to baby sit their kids, we'll need you to help them fill out provisional ballots, then follow through and make sure they come back with an i.d. the state will accept, we'll need you to buy them pizza so they don't pass out from low blood sugar as they wait in line for three hours, past dinner time, to vote.

We need you.

- Marta Evry (from Fairfax, Virginia)

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