Florida mid-day report

By Farhad Manjoo
Published November 3, 2004 12:55AM (UTC)
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War Room has spent the morning driving around South Florida to stop in at polling places around the region, and while this is sometimes annoying, frustrating work -- seriously, people here need a lot more help driving than they do voting -- we've been quite comforted and even inspired by what we've seen at the polls.

What pleases us most is the phalanx of black-clad volunteers from Election Protection, a nonpartisan group organized by the NAACP and the People for the American Way, among others, who stand guard at most of the precincts in Miami. These people are doing God's work; if everything goes well in this race, the group and others like it will deserve much of the credit.


Wearing T-shirts that scream "You have the right to vote," the Election Protection volunteers speak to each voter joining the voting line, instructing citizens of their rights under the law and what they should do if the poll workers tell them of problems with their registration status. One of the thorniest questions involved in voting here is one of location: Are you at the right precinct? Because if you're not at the right precinct and you're given the chance to vote on a provisional ballot -- which voters are given if their names can't be found on the rolls -- your ballot won't be counted.

If a voter is given a provisional ballot, the Election Protection volunteers make a few phone calls to determine if the voter is actually in the right precinct; if the voter is not, they make sure the voter knows where to go. War Room witnessed this at one precinct in Miami early this afternoon. An elderly black woman had apparently come to the wrong place, and an Election Protection volunteer spent at least ten minutes tracking down her correct voting location.

We spoke to Matt Lockshin, another Election Protection volunteer at the same polling place, about what he'd seen today. In between his work instructing voters about the complicated business of where you should vote -- some people who came to vote thought they could vote anywhere in the city, which was only true during the early voting period and is not true today -- Lockshin told us that he'd witnessed few major problems at the polls today. Lines at his precinct had stretched to as long as two hours early in the morning, but after the initial rush the line had shortened to about 40 minutes. Other than one report from a voter about a machine that didn't seem to want to record her vote for the presidential race (a problem that could not be verified), voters said they'd had no hardships voting. Significantly, Lockshin said, there'd been no systematic effort by Republicans (or anyone else) to challenge voters' qualifications to cast a ballot.


This news was corroborated by Stephen Zack, the head of John Kerry's legal team in Florida. Zack, who called War Room from what he called the "boiler room" of the legal effort, said that as of noon today there had only been about 20 legal challenges to voters across the entire state. He cautioned that the rest of the day may bring more, but so far "things have gone relatively smoothly." In addition, Zack said that he'd heard from lawyers in the field that voter turnout "looks huge everywhere." He added: "We most certainly expect that to be good for us."

Matt Lockshin -- who flew in from Berkeley last week to be part of the elections here -- was hesitant to take credit for the low number of challenges to voters, but to War Room it seems clear why Republicans aren't mounting a huge disenfranchisement campaign. When voters know their rights, they can't be stepped on. And it's thanks to Election Protection and groups like them that voters here are well-armed against mischief.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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