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I spent the day as a democratic election observer in Euclid, Ohio's Ward 4, Precinct D, in the Northeast corner of the infamous Cuyahoga County.

It was not a good day.

I counted at least 5 separate serious cases of voter suppression, and was threatened by a voter!

A blow-by-blow recap of the day's ridiculous and depressing events follows after the flip.

crossposted at ePluribus Media

UPDATE: Added a photo...

Midnight: I finish changing the front left tire on my car, which I discovered was as flat as Ted Haggard's earth while packing the car for the next day.

4:30 AM: I awaken to the sound of the alarm, and smell the coffee already brewing in the kitchen.

-- This was probably the best moment of the entire day, by the way. --

5:20 AM: I leave to head towards my precinct.

5:45 AM: I arrive at my destination, to find... nothing. I search for the building and can't find it. I go to the main street nearby, flag down a cop, and ask him where 1554 East 193rd St. is. He says, "follow me," whereupon he leads me to a construction site. There's a building, allegedly the Indian Hills Emeritus House, but it's draped in scaffolding. I can see an empty pool through the window, and piles of bricks, but certainly no poll workers and no Diebold machines.

A moment to talk about the Indian Hills Retirement Community. Euclid 4D is a huge one-block precinct, inhabited by 10 large apartment buildings where more than 2,000 people, mostly folks over 65 years old, mostly people of color, mostly women who have outlived their men. This is a 65-70% Democrat community, and one that, if the national ratios hold true, generally votes in the 50-60% rate.  This means that you're looking at a potential of at least 1,000 votes, maybe even more than 1,200.

6:00 AM:  I call my supervisor, who advises me to meet him on the other side of the suburb, to talk about what to do next, and to try to find where the polling place hjad moved. Since I can't find a living soul, I head out.

6:20 AM: I meet my supervisor, Dominic, at a school with three precincts voting within. There are already a few people in the hallway outside of the gymnasium, and I stand there while Dominic tries unsuccessfully to enter the polling place, despite the fact that he has proper paperwork. We all get on phones (including the Precinct Judge who had barred our entrance), and then Dominic suggests that I head back and see if I can locate the precinct "Just drive around the area and see if you can see the signs or flags. It's got to be there somewhere."

6:50 AM: The polls are now open, but it doesn't really matter because I still can't find them. I've driven in multiple concentric circles around this massive block of apartments, to no avail. No signs, no Flags, no nothing. I call Dominic, who says I should head for the local Dem HQ, where I might be able to help with GOTV. I take one more spin around the area - since the sun is finally beginning to color the very gray sky, I figure I might be able to actually see something other than dark buildings.

7:00 AM: Nope. I head for the GOTV effort.

7:20 AM: I'm pulling into the lot behind the campaign office. I go in, tell the people there what's happening, and after another flurry of phone calls, they tell me they may have found my precinct after all. I pour myself a new cup of coffee, and get back on the road. I stop for gas - I'm already doing far more driving than I had planned - and head back once again towards my precinct.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting7:50 AM: Well, well well. Look what I've found.

Leave the Emeritus House and go to the furthest point away from that site. Put the polling place in the back of a building that is, like the Center, under renovation. Ceiling tiles missing and rough concrete on the floor of the lobby. Travel down a narrow dark hallway to a small room, where they've crammed 7 Diebold machines - two not working - and two long tables, one for the poll workers and one for provisional voters. Hide the flags outside next to bushes, and post the signs in a way that they are illegible from more than 15 feet away.

The only way I found it was I saw a woman from Stephanie Tubbs-Jones' office handing out literature outside the back entrance of the lobby. If she hadn't been standing there, I would have missed the place again.

So I go in, introduce myself to Herman the Precinct Judge, and settle in. I see that only five of the apparently seven machines are working, but there are two men in the corner working on machine number one (Diebold machine power cords are daisy chained. Machine 1 is the one closest to the outlet). I stay out of their way -- did I mention it was a pretty small room? -- until they step away from the machine and ask a woman waiting to vote to step up and try it. She starts voting, everything seems kosher, and the two men step over towards me. I introduce myself, and one guy says that he's not staying, that he's the area tech supervisor. He introduces himself as "Lucky," and then heads out the door. The other tech, Ted, explains that they had taken the printer canister from their "spare" machine (the legs were broken on that one) and cobbled together #1 into a working machine. Meanwhile, the line has grown in the hallway out into the lobby, and people are beginning to A: complain, and B: leave. I also see that there are two people filling out provisional ballots. When I ask why, I'm told that their names aren't in the Alpha roster. This would be a recurring problem, as a total of 41 people would be forced to cast provisional ballots throughout the day,

You might wonder where all these people came from. I'm told that there were signs posted by the elevators in all of the buildings (except this one, naturally) stating that elections had been moved to Building "G" and would be held from 6 AM to 7 PM - another problem, and one I cannot fix.

So "Lucky" leaves, and I realize there are only five poll workers left, out of a prescribed six. Herman (a democrat), Gloria (a resident of the complex and registered Independent), Donna (a woman from the precinct across the street who said she was "whatever party we needed her to be"), and a 17 year old Republican Private High School Senior named Alicia - I think. She mumbled her name when asked and wasn't very communicative. Ted was the tech on duty - he was, I think, a Democrat. Herman says that his other Republican had decided at the last minute not to come in, and so they were told by the Board of Elections to work short handed.

Things are moving slowly but surely. Slowly, because we were dealing with a very elderly group of voters who needed their hands held while being retaught how to use the machines, since they'd only used them once before. Twice I saw ladies look dumbly at the screen, and then poke at it timidly with their finger for a minute, then leave without casting their final ballots out of frustration. Surely, because despite being a crew member short, the team was working on all cylinders. I had no problems with the staff until the very end... but I'll get to that in due time.

11:00 AM Things seem to be going smoothly. My friend Justin (our blog is here) calls to tell me that he's talking to a Republican woman (she admitted that she was) carrying a "Democrats for Blackwell" sign (my wife diaried about it here), and that was good for a sad chuckle. Meanwhile, rumors are coming in about horrible problems in Cleveland Heights (where I live), and I'm told by Dominic that another observer here in Euclid had been thrown out of her precinct by the presiding judge.

Then a woman from the Board of Elections arrives with two new machines to add to our six current ones, after getting repeated calls from myself and the woman from Tubbs-Jones' office. But there's a problem - she didn't bring any memory cards. So we take the memory card from the "spare" machine and set it up. the BofE woman says she'll come back later with a memory card. I never see her again, and the extra machine ends up sitting on the floor in the room across the hall, useless.

4:30 PM: After leaving for a lunch break and chatting with the wife, I head back to learn that A: nothing has gone wrong (could it be true???) and that half of the crew had left to get lunch. There's only six to eight people waiting at any given time at this point, and the wait is now less than 20 minutes, so I figure it's okay. Alicia (?) is cranking away, registering people by herself, coding and handing them their Voter Access cards, while Herman is still shepherding Provisional voters and Ted is answering questions from those with machine issues (How do I get to the next page? types of questions). There are these wonderful, ancient black women, bent-but-not-broken chattering on about how "I fought for my right to vote, and I don't care what I have to do o0r how long I have to wait to vote, but by god I am going to vote," said one particularly feisty octogenarian. I nodded and said that there was no way that I was going to get in her way, and she smiled at me and patted my head. I felt blessed This was the second-best moment of the day.

Then an obnoxiously loud older white man came in, loudly asking "are you letting illegals vote here?"

I said that they were letting everyone vote.

He yelled at me: "That's illegal!"

I said, no, it's what they're supposed to be doing. Everyone gets a chance to vote, and the BofE will sort through provisional ballots to ensure they are legitimate. It's not our job to determine who is "illegal" or not.

He demanded my name, yelling that I was saying partisan propaganda, and that he was going to report me to the BofE. "None of those damned illegal aliens better be voting in here, or else it'll be your fault," he sputtered, then went to vote, glaring at those around him and muttering. I saw a woman look at him, suddenly fearful, and quickly leave. I couldn't catch her because of the narrow hallway - I'm a big guy and she was tiny - and by the time I got out to the lobby she had vanished into thin air.

Mr Bombastic comes out, glares at me and says "you haven't heard the last of this!" and stomped out of the building. Gloria later told me the guy had been arrested the previous year for disrupting a polling place. Not a cool dude, and frankly, I have no worry. Still, he caused at least one woman to leave.

6:00 PM: It's starting to get dark out, and I notice that the line has all but disappeared. Then I hear a woman say, "I'm almost afraid to walk home." I ask her why, and she takes my hand and pulls me out into the lobby.  "Look out there," she said.

I saw... darkness. The entire parking lot was pitch black. Not a light to be seen within 200 yards in any direction. She says, "they were working on Sunday, but yesterday they took out all of the lightbulbs. They're going to tear down the old lampposts tomorrow and put in new lamps."

So now we're in the backass end of a huge multiple apartment building complex, surrounded by construction, in pitch darkness, and you can no longer see that it's a polling place again. I call my various hotlines and Dominic, and am told that unless I can move my car and shine my headlights on the doorway, there's nothing else to be done. But to do that would put my car into a tow-away/fire zone, and I don't have enough gas to let the car idle for an hour and a half, and I can't leave the car unattended while I go in to watch the proceeding. The doorway remains dark.

6:45 PM I see Alicia and Ted talking quietly and I hear him say, "I thought it was on there." I ask "what was on where?" Alicia says, that the seal over the memory card is missing on machine 1. I look, and sure enough, not only is the seal missing, but the hatch is unlocked and the memory card is visible..

We determine that it's probably been open since "Lucky" had worked on fixing the  paper jam.

I put on my Tin Hat:

I no longer trust any of the results from this precinct, regardless of the wins by Brown and Strickland.

I take off my Tin Hat.

7:05 PM A woman comes running into the room. "Am I too late?" she gasps. I tell her of course not, she's still got a half an hour. But the curse of the mismarked signs, along with the impenetrable darkness are beginning to be fully realized. We get only one more voter who arrives at...

7:28 PM. She comes in, signs the book, gets her Voter Access Card and begins to vote. That's when I notice Ted starting to do something to another one of the machines. I ask what he's doing, and he says that it's 7:30 and that it's time to tear down. I say, no, this woman is still voting, you must wait for her to finish. He continues to work, and I again say, a little more forcibly that he has to stop. He glares at me, but stops what he's doing. The last voter finishes, Ted starts his shutdown again, and everything proceeds in a somewhat hectic fashion. I suddenly realize that something seems wrong, and, lo-and-behold, Ted has skipped two pages of instructions and has started the power-down sequence before removing the memory cards and shutting off the machines. I grab Herman, get him to stop Ted, then wait as they retrieve the memory cards and place them in the proper container. I start to show Ted where he had made the mistake, when I realize that Herman and Gloria have taken the memory cards and are leaving - and I'm supposed to be following them. I tell Ted that he's two pages ahead as I'm grabbing my coat, my clipboard, and coffee mug, and run out into the darkness to barely see them beginning to climb into a Ford Bronco. I run to my car, jump in, crank the motor and pull out of my parking space just as they begin to leave their space.

8:15 PM I follow them to Euclid City Hall, which is the designated drop-off point for the memory cards. I watch Herman take the cards into the building, then emerge with empty hands.

8:30 PM Angry, tired and depressed, I travel a third of the way across the county to the main headquarters on Shaker Square to essentially make this report.  I'm told by the team of lawyers and computer people that I clearly have the worst story they've heard, and that I'll probably be summoned to testify in Columbus, because eclearly there were major problems at my precinct.

9:15 PM: Exhausted and hungry, I leave the HQ and drive the short five minutes home. My lovely wife greets me at the door, tells me that Brown and Strickland have won, kisses me on the cheek and says to sit down whereupon she serves me a nice light dinner. This was the third-best moment of the day. I go online, read Kos for a while, then write this diary.

______________________

UPDATE: I almost forgot. Remember that 50-60% ratio I mentioned before? 1,000-1,200 votes?

We had a total of 339 regular voters, plus 41 provisional, for a grand total of 380 voters.

Oh, and don't tell me about absentee voters. Virtually all of our provisional voters were people who had requested absentee ballots but never received them.

Originally posted to Timroff on Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 11:34 PM PST.

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