By Morris Seeskin
In 2008 my wife and I, both lawyers in Oak Park, IL, signed up with the Obama campaign to assist with voter protection. We were assigned to a highly Democratic precinct in Gary, IN (Lake County). At the precinct, poll workers checked in voters using hard poll books with voter registration materials but the original poll books were kept at the county building. The books used at the polling location were compiled before the registration period ended and consequently, meant the precinct books contained incomplete and/or possibly incorrect information. This affected anyone who registered after the precinct books were created, voters who had recently moved and properly reported the move, and those who had changed their name and timely reregistered. If an apparent problem turned up at the precinct, poll workers were instructed to call the central office to verify eligibility based on the more complete original records.
By the time the polling place opened, a line had already formed. The line fluctuated throughout the day as people came and went. It was never under an hour wait until sometime after the nominal closing time. As a result, the poll workers were busy all day. The central office hot line was overwhelmed so incoming calls almost always got a busy signal. Poll workers didn’t have the “luxury” of repeatedly dialing the central office as the line began to move more and more slowly. Left to their own devices, the workers offered the voters provisional ballots. Unfortunately, provisional ballots are not even looked at unless the voter physically goes to the central office to establish their right to vote.
My wife and I decided to take on the task of calling the central office over and over again, as many as 20-25 times for a single voter. Once connected, we handed the phone to a poll worker. By the end of the day, approximately seven people got real ballots instead of provisional ballots because of our work. We left believing our efforts had accomplished little… until the next day. The election results estimated Barack Obama won Indiana by ONE VOTE PER PRECINCT.
Never underestimate your power to make a difference, no matter how incremental and tedious it may seem.