The un-swing city

Even in Berkeley, each person's vote matters. And it feels good to wait in line.

By Andrew Leonard
Published November 2, 2004 2:27PM (EST)

"It's good to stand in line," said one voter to another Tuesday morning, waiting to vote at the local polling station. "It's symbolic."

Gotta love Berkeley voters. The presidential election will not be decided by this liberal bastion by the Bay, but that's OK by us, as long as we can say proudly that we had to stand in line a really long time, just like our brothers and sisters in Ohio and Florida and everywhere else. Most people might blanch at the sight of a line winding out of the station, through the parking lot and around the corner, but in Berkeley, many voters I overheard expressed clear satisfaction. With their New York Times and Peet's coffee in hand, they waited calmly on a glorious fall morning.

Of course, there's more than just a presidential election at stake. In my district, the City Council seat is up for grabs for the first time in decades. The other day, my candidate was out shaking hands at the BART station, and he called me personally Monday evening. It was satisfying to tell him that he had my vote, and to think that, even though my choice for president made no difference in the larger scheme of things, I was something precious to that City Council candidate.

And since this is California, land of the half-baked initiative voting process, there was much more -- everything from a referendum on Indian gambling to whether or not Berkeley police should make cracking down on prostitution the lowest priority. To be an informed voter in California takes time and work. Sometimes it all seems like a pain in the ass. But not on Election Day.

In 16 years in Berkeley, I've never seen the lines as long at the polling stations as they were Tuesday. And I've never felt that my vote was making as much of a difference. Not just because I knew my City Council candidate, and liked him, and not just because I have an opinion on what school board candidates deserve election. But because all across the nation, there has never been, in my lifetime, an election where more people cared, more people worked for their candidates and more people could not sleep at night. The stakes are high, and the lines are long, everywhere. No matter what happens, we are deciding the outcome.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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2004 Elections California