Despite a workload that seems completely overwhelming right now, I took election day off to work as a legal observer in New Hampshire as part of Obama's voter protection program, Counsel for Change.
And I did observe. I watched and listened as the process of same day registrations (they allow them in New Hampshire) swelled the voter rolls by an additional six percent in a small town on election day. I witnessed the verification and tabulation of absentee ballots and monitored the clerk and the poll moderator as they inspected and scrutinized signatures to make sure that the ballots were genuine (they were amazed that they had close to two hundred to process, admitting that they used to think fourteen was a lot for one election). And the other legal observer and I stayed until all of the votes were tabulated and the ballots sealed away in tamper-proof boxes in case of a recount.
But we were much more than merely the last line of defense once the voters reached the polls. Over the course of the day, we were actually integrated into the greatest GOTV operation that this country has ever seen, helping to ensure that the voters were there to protect in the first place.
To be honest with you, there was not much high drama at my polling precinct. The other voter protection team member and I had no Republican counterparts there hatching nefarious schemes to suppress votes. There were two Republican poll checkers or challengers who listened to the clerks repeat the voters' names as they received their ballots and checked them against the list that they had. But they were just mild-mannered volunteers who did not actually challenge any voters before calling it a night a full hour and a half before the polls even closed.
And the poll workers, although they made no real secret of the fact that they were Republicans who had cast their ballots for John McCain, were absolutely fastidious in their jobs and went out of their way to make sure that everyone who wanted to vote, could vote (it also helps that New Hampshire election law disfavors disenfranchisement of eligible voters). They even shared the pizza and other food that local business donated to keep the poll workers happy with us, and at the end of the night, after the polls had closed, they went out of their way to compliment the campaign on the thoroughness of its preparation and data collection and wondered allowed why there were no Republican attorneys there to keep an eye on the process in the same way. We simply shrugged and thanked them for their help and hospitality.
What was really remarkable about the day, however (and maybe I'm burying the lede in this diary), was the fact that the Obama campaign had the vision to take all of the data that our poll checkers were collecting about who had already turned out to vote and put it to good use. We did more than just check off names on a list, we became conduits to the much-vaunted ground game, helping the campaign adjust to the ebb and flow of voter turnout in every precinct around the country.
Everyone who worked at the polling location helped make what the Obama campaign dubbed the Houdini project (mentioned by Newsweek in its review of election day) happen. We took the real-time results of who actually showed up at the polls and fed it back to the campaign so that they could adjust their GOTV calls and canvassing as the day wore on. Every time someone came in to vote, their names were entered into a computer system and their names disappeared or escaped, Houdini-like, from the call and walk lists.
We were plugged in to the GOTV operation throughout the day, and we knew that it was working, that what we were doing mattered. When the data input lagged a little because of technical difficulties, Chicago called the local office and helped them fashion a solution. When it looked like the turnout numbers were lagging just a little from the campaign's goals, campaign headquarters called again and asked us to extend our reporting a little longer so that they could continue identifying who they needed to reach out to and encourage to go to the polls. The system was so precise that when one of the Houdini reporters at my wife's precinct mistakenly entered data wrong for three individual voters, the campaign actually called to ask for clarification and to see if they were having problems with the system.
I had few doubts about the ingenuity and abilities of the Obama campaign before yesterday, but its dexterity on the ground on election day and its willingness to put technological innovation to good use that I witnessed first hand reinforced my belief that an Obama administration (it feels so good to type that and know that it's a reality only a couple months away) will not only work towards enacting a progressive legislative agenda domestically while repairing our damaged relations abroad, but it will also actually work. It will function. And on a very basic level, I think that the American people needs to be reminded that a government can operate competently to help them do what they cannot do on their own. And after the disastrous "administration" of the last eight years, that is no small feat by any means.