By 9:30 a.m., a cacophony of cell-phone rings filled a tiny upstairs warren between two classrooms at the community center, as volunteers started taking the first reports from the field. One such "hotline" volunteer, 35-year-old Dennis Clark, said he'd taken the day off from his job at King County to work the phones. "I would just sit around at work and fret all day," Clark said, his face flushed from exertion. "This way, I'm busy and I feel like I'm doing something."
There was plenty to do. Within minutes, sheets of plain butcher paper that had been taped to the yellow walls started filling up with pink sticky notes, each of them corresponding to a targeted precinct, showing how many people had voted and where. The information was relayed to Democrat state headquarters to help focus the day's strategy. Back downstairs in the crowded basement, dozens of volunteers, shaking their umbrellas, streamed back in, grabbing Kerry signs and jotting down directions to the homes of targeted voters. Then, just as quickly, they disappeared back into the field to knock on the doors of Democratic voters who hadn't made it to the polls yet. The volunteers had a simple rap at the door, according to one Team Captain, Danielle, who headed out around 10:00 a.m. with four others: "Vote!"
A few blocks away, at a folding table outside the Husky Union Building on the University of Washington campus, the Young Democrats UW distributed copies of the Democratic ticket and directed student voters to their polling places. As the exit polls, which trended positive for Kerry throughout the afternoon, poured in from the East Coast, the energy level around the table rose dramatically. "Seeing [the numbers] is like drinking a quad shot of caffeine," said 20-year-old Emily Steed, a first-time presidential voter and intern for the Patty Murray campaign. "The youth are voting, and now [whoever wins] is going to have to look at our issues."
Elsewhere in the city, the story was much the same: From the Mount Baker Community Club, where Washington Citizen Action, Hate Free Zone, and the Asian Pacific Islander Americans had amassed an army of block-walking volunteers, to Democratic Party headquarters at Westlake Center, to the Machinists Hall in the Rainier Valley, Ground Zero for the Dems' "ground game" operation, hordes of volunteers assembled and marched on Seattle's neighborhoods.
In Mount Baker, as in the University District, dozens of get-out-the-vote block-walkers, undeterred by the pouring rain, filed into the community club and assembled around blue-and-white-covered tables before canvassing the 37th and 11th districts, where they hoped to knock on at least 15,000 doors. The nonpartisan groups organizing the Election Day effort considered the get-out-the-vote push particularly crucial in South Seattle, where barely a third of 53,000 newly registered voters had turned out at the polls by mid-morning on election day--10 percent less than the Seattle average.
Josh Coberly, a twentysomething who lives near Green Lake, figures he's knocked on about 300 or 400 doors this season. On Election Day, as a volunteer with Washington Citizen Action, he headed to Thorndyke Elementary School in Tukwila, where poll workers told him they usually don't get more than one page of voter sign-ins per precinct, for the entire day. But just after 1:00 p.m., as Coberly compared his WCA roster of registered voters against those who'd already voted, the precinct he was checking had nearly two pages of voters recorded. Encouraged, Coberly headed out with two other volunteers.
A few blocks from the school, the group split up, knocking on doors at a few houses, the Orchard Trailer Park, and several apartment complexes. Most people weren't home--of those who were, nearly everyone they found had already voted, save for a registered voter who answered at the trailer park. He thanked Coberly for stopping by, but said he has "bigger issues" than voting.
In Seward Park, where nearly every other front yard appeared to be adorned with a blue John Kerry or red Patty Murray sign, block-walking volunteers like Lori Markowitz got a warmer reception. Markowitz, a 42-year-old graduate student wearing exercise pants, and sensible cross-trainers, spent the morning of Election Day traveling a circuit between the Graham Hill Elementary School, the polling place for five Southeast Seattle precincts, and, after checking the rolls, the homes of people who hadn't yet voted.
The neighborhood was somewhat familiar territory to Markowitz, who has spent every weekend for the last two months marching through the Central District and South Seattle, eight or nine members of her 9-year-old daughter's soccer team in tow. "We must have hit 1,000 homes," Markowitz says. "We were very, very well received."
Even before the Dems launched their 11th-hour get-out-the-vote push, polling places throughout the city were overflowing--if a little damp. At Lowell Elementary School at the corner of 11th Avenue and Mercer Street, the line at 8:00 a.m. stretched around the corner, as 50-plus Capitol Hill residents lined up to cast their early-morning votes. Two hours later, at the First Covenant Church on the corner of Pike Street and Summit Avenue, the crowds had dissipated somewhat, although the morning was not without snafus. At around 9:00 a.m., the church's AccuVote optical scanning machine had "stopped doing its thing," in the words of poll supervisor Virginia Saint Louis, and an hour's worth of ballots were set aside under seal in a red zippered bag to be run through the scanner at the end of the day.
Later that afternoon at the Blessed Sacrament Church, just off the UW campus, the midday rush was decidedly younger, angrier, and more caffeinated. Heidi Hess, a 20-year-old UW student from Bellingham, said she voted for Kerry because, "I'm really against the war. I had a friend die two weeks ago in Iraq, so I have a pretty strong hatred against Bush." Bobby Mulder, 24, called the war in Iraq "a crock of shit." He cast his first-ever presidential vote, enthusiastically, for Kerry.
Meanwhile, at 1:15 p.m., a source deeply involved in Democratic politics called The Stranger. He was clearly excited: The early results were encouraging. "Kerry is only down by one in [conservative] Virginia," he says. "We're winning everywhere on the East Coast: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine." He did not have numbers, but by mid-afternoon Slate was reporting similar information, claiming that Kerry was ahead but the margins were narrow. At 3:30 p.m., Robert Perez, press secretary for the Washington Democrats, summed up his party's mood. "We've had enormous turnout. I go on my gut and on turnout, and right now I feel great," Perez said. Sam Rodriguez, state director of Kerry's campaign, struck a similar note, saying he had witnessed an explosion of Democratic GOTV activism as he traveled through the region over the course of the day. "I'm feeling good," Rodriguez said.
Reporting: Erica C. Barnett, Josh Feit, Jenn Green, Amy Jenniges, Sandeep Kaushik.