The polls open in South Florida

By Farhad Manjoo
Published November 2, 2004 7:03PM (UTC)
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It's a hot, beautiful morning in Miami, and during the three hours since polls opened here, nothing major's gone wrong. And that's a wonderful thing.

For four years, the people of South Florida have waited and worried about this day. They've endured the machinations of partisan and/or incompetent elections officials, the shenanigans of political parties looking to abuse their rights to vote, and, not least, the ridicule of the nation and the world for getting things so disastrously wrong the last time.

Despite all this, what was most striking about the two polling places War Room visited this morning was how mundane the proceedings appeared, how utterly normal and ordinary.

Yes, things aren't ideal. The lines to vote appear to be quite long, even at this early hour. At the precincts we visited -- both in North Miami, an African-American part of the city where John Kerry needs a huge turnout to win -- hundreds of people had queued up shortly after 7 a.m., when the polls opened.

Voters near the end of the line at the Parkview Elementary School said they expected to wait at least an hour, possibly longer. At the New Birth Baptist Church, the queue appeared to be even longer than that. Voters said they believed they were beating the rush, though -- when folks get off from work in the afternoon, they predicted, these lines will become unbearable.

There is talk this morning, too, of possible ugliness during the day ahead. For several weeks now, Republicans in the state have been rumored to be planning a major effort to challenge each voter's qualifications at the polls. The Republicans here have not been as candid about their plans as have Republicans in other states, and the Democrats have brought forward no real proof that their opponents are up to mischief.

But considering what the Republicans plan elsewhere, voting rights activists wouldn't be surprised if the GOP launched a challenge effort here, especially if it continues to look -- as it did to us this morning -- that African-Americans are turning out in great numbers.

The Florida ACLU is distributing flyers here to educate voters on what they should do if they're challenged. Their points of advice can be synthesized thusly: If you're challenged, don't back down, stand up for yourself. Challenge the challenger.

Such a mood of defiance was palpable at the precincts we visited. "Of course we're out here because of what happened last time," said Bridget Taylor, a black woman who'd come to the polls early with her young daughter. "All we want is for our leaders to do right by the people."

In 2000, the people of Miami were disenfranchised en masse. Because Katherine Harris, then the secretary of state and a Bush-Cheney campaign chair, imposed an impossible deadline for the county to complete its hand recount of all ballots cast here, the county decided to stop its count short; at the time the count was halted, Al Gore had gained 150 votes over George W. Bush, and he would probably have gained more than Bush's eventual state margin of 537 if the votes had been fully recounted.

You get the sense that the people of Miami won't stand for such a thing again. We asked Bridget Taylor whether she thought her vote would be counted this time. She said, simply, "It better count."

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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