Day of Reckoning
Reporting from Election Day
It's barely noon on Election Day as the Stranger Election Control Board (SECB) is sitting down to write this, and man, do we need a drink.
But drinking is for later. Today, the SECB is all about watching the polls, talking to the volunteers, and hanging out with the candidates.
For the SECB, Election Day 2008 started on a rainy morning at 7:00 a.m., with a damp bus ride past dozens of people waving signs for mass transit, Governor Christine Gregoire, and, of course, Barack Obama. Our bus driver honked loudly as she passed a crowd of mass-transit supporters and blinked her lights as she cruised past the Dems—a nod, we assumed, to the "nonpartisan" position of King County Metro.
"The honk-to-finger ratio has been about 40 to 1," Mass Transit Now volunteer Sara Nikolic told the SECB.
A few miles away at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street downtown, two volunteers braved the cold and rain to wave "Support Our Market" signs. One of them was a shivering Marlys Erickson, director of the Pike Place Market Foundation. Decked out in signs for Obama and the market, Erickson sounded worried. She told the SECB, "I spent several nights calling older voters who said, 'My pension is in the toilet, so I have to vote no on all the levies.' That scared the bejeezus out of me."
As early as 8:00 a.m., polls around the city were at crush capacity. One poll worker on Capitol Hill told us, "We've never had such a turnout." In Ballard, the Central District, West Seattle, and South Seattle, the story was the same: long lines, excited voters, and weary poll workers laboring to get everyone through the polls in an election where turnout was expected to top 85 percent. It was also the last-ever poll vote in King County, which will join 37 other Washington State counties when it switches to all-mail voting next year.
The Democratic Party headquarters on East Mercer Street was crawling with phone bankers and strewn with campaign signs by 9:00 a.m., when Democratic governor Gregoire—facing a tough reelection campaign against Dino Rossi—showed up to rally supporters at the first of eight campaign appearances on Election Day. Wearing a Christmasy wool sweater and a red turtleneck, Gregoire seemed upbeat about her reelection chances, although her speech—like the warm-up talk given by Senator Patty Murray—focused primarily on the real reason volunteers were excited.
"Washington State is going to decide tonight that they want [to] partner with Barack Obama," Gregoire exclaimed. "This is the day we're taking back this country!" Gregoire was among the first elected officials in Washington State to endorse Obama.
Over at the Baltic Room, a club on Capitol Hill that usually doesn't see a soul before 10:00 p.m., the tables upstairs were full with earnest Democratic volunteers at 11:00 a.m. Sipping bottles of organic Honest Tea and dialing furiously on their cell phones, the volunteers hit up voters in the 43rd District in a last-minute get-out-the-vote effort for Obama. Mel Lotz, a young volunteer who was training callers and giving them copies of the top-secret calling scripts (confined to the building lest they fall into Republican hands), told one exasperated voter who'd received several calls from Obama supporters already: "We get that you're annoyed by us. Get out and vote and we'll stop calling you."
Just a few blocks away, Babeland was giving away free Vibratex Maverick sleeves—a phrase the SECB would rather never type again—and Silver Bullet vibrators to anyone who could prove they had voted. By 11:45 a.m., Babeland had gone through 113 masturbatory aids, including all its Maverick sleeves. "We didn't think it was going to be so popular," Audrey McManus, Babeland's education coordinator, told the SECB. In Babeland's window, a bubble-gum-pink butt plug was painted to look like Sarah Palin. A note attached to the toy read, "Sarah suggests: Lipstick!"
Several miles away in Renton, a different kind of Election Day action was taking place. About 500 people were on the floor of King County Elections headquarters—an 11-month-old building equipped with 59 security cameras, a high-security inner area, and an outer "closed perimeter loop" where anyone who wants to can come and watch the action. When we were there, one lonely family was walking the loop: The White family of Des Moines, who brought their daughters, 11 and 8, to check it out. The SECB, unlike the general public, was allowed down on the floor, where, according to King County Elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan, between 80,000 and 100,000 absentee ballots were being counted. Did you know there's a whole team of election workers trained to detect whether the signature on your ballot matches your voting record? Neither did the SECB.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the universe in Redmond, Democrat Darcy Burner—challenging U.S. Representative Dave Reichert for his 8th District congressional seat—cast her ballot at Timberlake Christian Fellowship. (Mayor Greg Nickels invited media to watch him cast his own ballot this morning at 7:30 a.m. at Admiral Congregational Church in West Seattle. What will politicians do next year, when all voters cast their ballots by mail? The SECB does not know.) Burner told the SECB she was "feeling pretty good" about the election. Her campaign spokesman, Sandeep Kaushik, couldn't say the same thing—at 5:30 a.m. on Election Day, he was headed for the hospital, where he spent the day incapacitated by a kidney stone.
Back at Democratic Party headquarters, the mood was one of controlled chaos as volunteers awaited instructions and the first election returns. (One day earlier, the headquarters was a hive of activity, as volunteers made 4,000 sack lunches for volunteers across the state—using up a case of peanut butter.) The walls were plastered with signs for Obama and Gregoire, the tables were littered with half-eaten doughnuts, and the classroom-sized main room was packed with more than 60 volunteers. One volunteer, Pam Goodman, told the SECB about a conversation she had on the phone with a voter who was "still worried about Obama's relationship with Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright." Goodman said, "I was able to convince her that it was all character assassination."
After a quick stop at the Comet on Capitol Hill (where a second-time voter who would only identify himself as Owen said he'd be drinking dollar beers "until Obama wins") the SECB headed up to Northwest Seattle, where a blue-fleece-clad John Burbank—competing against fellow Democrat Reuven Carlyle in a tight race for state representative in the 36th District—was knocking on doors. Walking through the mostly empty streets of Ballard, Burbank characterized his opponent as a corporate lackey who doesn't care about the middle class. Everyone who opened their doors told Burbank they'd already voted for him—not too surprising, considering this part of the 36th is Burbank's stronghold. (The SECB also spent some time removing campaign signs with Carlyle, but not, alas, before press time.)
Down on the University of Washington campus, the undergraduate library was subdued, with a few televisionless-but-politically-attentive students gathered to watch election returns on CNN. Kyle, a sociology and political science undergrad, says he voted for Republican Dino Rossi despite supporting Obama because "I'm worried about the state budget [and] Gregoire's positions on crime." He calls himself a "Dinocrat." The SECB refrained from slapping him, because we're opposed to political violence.
Up in North Seattle's 46th District, Gerry Pollet and Scott White—two Democratic state house candidates who aren't exactly on cordial terms, after Pollet's supporters sued White repeatedly for alleged ethical violations—somehow found themselves on the exact same corner. (Pollet's sign read "Ethics and Integrity"; White's read simply "I'm Scott.") Unsurprisingly, the opponents could not agree on which one got there first—and neither man would budge from his position. "I was here first, by a little bit," White told the SECB. Nuh-uh, Pollet responded. "We arrived at the exact same moment."
The SECB got up to a lot more during the day—much, much more, including a visit to the Drinking Liberally troops at the Montlake Ale House, dropping in on the LGBT "Out for Obama" party at Neighbours, listening in as KIRO's Ron and Don broadcasted live from an Obama fundraiser at Tini Bigs, and a final stop at Gregoire campaign headquarters—but we're running out of time and we've got parties to go to.
Reporting: Erica C. Barnett, Jen Graves, Dominic Holden, Chris Kissel, Aaron Pickus, Eli Sanders, Dan Savage, Jonah Spangenthal-Lee