Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The old precinct sports a new election day look

To avoid the lines, Kathy and I showed up about ten minutes before 7 a.m. at Austin's Precinct 126 to find about 12-15 people waiting ahead of us. After a moment of initial confusion (my ID was checked a total of three times, and there was an oddly large amount of redundant paperwork required, for whatever reason), we were able to quickly complete the task, and now it's just a matter of hoping the electronic voting machies record the darn thing accurately. ;)

In any event, predictions of a high turnout appear to be on target. Over the years, East Austin has experienced such low turnout rates that most political consultants, based purely on a (correct) cost-benefit analysis, advised against spending money on East Austin GOTV efforts since, more often than not, nobody voted anyway even if the campaign spent money there.

This spring, though, around 2,000 people voted in my precinct alone in the Democratic primary, then more than 600 of them came back that night to caucus at the precinct convention. By comparison, at the last Democratic precinct convention I attended before that, my wife and I made seven total participants. (I've lived in this neighborhood since 1990. Our precinct is historically black and at one time a serious crime center, but is now a rapidly gentrifying mixed neighborhood a mile due east of the capitol.)

Another interesting change, for good or ill: For years, our precinct (which was precinct 128 until the 2003 redistricting) was staffed on election day with the same, long-time cadre of septuagenarian or octogenarian black women, all wearing their Sunday finest. A couple of them would remember me as a frequent voter, always asking if my wife was coming in, exchanging guesses about turnout totals, etc..

But 2008 saw a generational shift Precinct 126's election workers, who today were mostly energetic young people, a couple of whom sheepishly admitted they were doing this for the first time as they fumbled through the seemingly over-complex paper work required to verify IDs. One of the new election workers was an old friend who Kathy and I've known for 20 years, so I'm happy to report this personnel transition didn't alter that sense of communal familiarity I think I'm somehow looking for when casting a ballot on election day. And there's little question there's a lot more excitement in the air - even at 7 a.m. - than there is for most elections.

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