WASHINGTON, DC — From Nation intern Emma Dumain, comes the finaldispatch from the Election Protection command center:
In the second press briefing of the day here at the Election Protectioncommand center in Washington, members of the media were greeted withmore doleful assessments of the state of voter rights in America. Textmessages, false e-mails and Facebook wall posts have been circulatingwith the same “clarification” as seen on the Hampton Roads, Virginiafliers: “Obama voters, vote on November 5.” Overflow ballots are beingpiled on floors in precincts around Florida after hours ofmalfunctioning optical scanners. Students at Virginia Tech are beingsent to vote at a precinct only reachable by car, on an unmarked road.
“Our American voting system is broken,” said Barbara Arnwine, ExecutiveDirector of the Laywers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, atthe start of the briefing. “We must take action now. We can’t wake uptomorrow when the question on our minds is, ‘who won and who lost?’ Weneed to ask, ‘how do we go forward as a nation to the next election witha better election system?'”
Trends in the calls coming in at this point in the day are of the normalfare–long lines, broken machines, lack of paper ballots–and the moreunexpected. Rachel Faithful, a first-year law student at the WashingtonCollege of Law at American University, heard news of a strange casewhere ballots were being fed into a mechanical ballot box that was notproperly recording the votes. Recent Georgetown Law grad Joy Welin tooka report from a voter whose poll worker was passing out pens to fill outthe ballots, even though it clearly states that a number two pencil mustbe used.
The call stations here are staffed with newcomers and old-timers in theelection game, but despite their age and experience, they are meetingthe harsh realities–that the so-called “greatest nation in the world”has a considerably less-than-great voting infrastructure–with aconsiderable degree of hopefulness (no Obama pun intended).
“What impresses me so much is the outpouring of voters,” said JoeGuttenberg, a retired international tax layer and a veteran voterprotection worker, who is in some ways uplifted that so many calls arecoming in from people looking simply for reassurances that their voteswill be counted.
He continued to say, though, that this level of warranted insecuritywith the system is “the sad news.”
“It’s inexcusable,” Guttenberg went on. “How can the lines be six hourslong in Virginia? How can they run out of boxes in Florida? They cango to Home Depot and buy one and put a lock on it…All of these things,they cause you to think about things you never thought of before, theparanoia and the worry. You know, in the end, it’s not about whathappens today, it’s about what happens tomorrow. We want to fix thissystem to put this organization out of business.”
He paused and looked up at the map and statistics on the big screen. “Look at that. 60,000 calls today. We might reach 100,000 callstoday.”
With nearly three hours to go until the call center goes to sleep forthis presidential election, as lines continue to grow around the countryand voters still clamor to cast their votes, he may be right–for betteror for worse.