And So It Went in South Florida
8:10 a.m. Visited five polling stations, and nothing unusual. Were bracing for a storm because theres been so much concern about an organized push by the Republicans to sow chaos in Broward, the Florida county where the most registered Democrats live. But its just another sunny Florida morning, with lots of people standing out on the medians waving signs. Strangely, on the day the national polls open, Florida looks more normal than it has in the past few weeks. The lines from early voting have evaporated. I think theyre waiting for the right time to strike, says novelist and blogger Stephen Elliott. Theyre patient.
9:27 a.m. The massive building housing the Kerry-Edwards headquarters for Broward County looks like a hive, with all the volunteers and paid staffers swarming in and out of the entrances. We sneak past security and make our way into the Boiler Room, the command post for managing voting problems at the polls. Our friend Ivana is recording incidents as they come in. We note a couple items of interest: a deputy shouting at voters; people being redirected to the wrong polling places; teams of Republican lawyers laying ambushes to get people to vote with provisional ballots. Still no sign of the big offensive.
9:50 a.m. Stephen and I go on a wild goose chase down near Hallandale after some supposedly fake ACT fliers with false precinct information. There are plenty of other dirty tricks weve seen up close, and this looks like it could be another one to investigate. We discover, once we get there, that the fliers were probably just goofs by ACT.
11:17 a.m. Its strangely quiet out where is the barrage of Republican challenges? Like in Aliens, when the motion detector flashes, so they know the creatures are coming, but they cant see them we know theyre out there, drawing closer, moving silently through the walls. Were just waiting to look up and see thousands of Republican lawyers crawling along the ceiling.
4:15 p.m. First serious incident develops. Ive been catching up intermittently with a group of international election monitors brought to the United States by Pax Christi, which is a great name for a Christian peace organization. They spent Sunday and Monday training for their mission and litigating with the Supervisors of Elections in order to get access to polling stations in Florida. That was successful; the monitors are having no trouble visiting polls in Broward County on Election Day until, that is, they arrive at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, where the election officials are making trouble.
First the clerk, and then the deputy guarding the poll, give them conflicting reasons why they cant enter. I am just here to make see the rights that your country has provided as guidance to the world are preserved, says Emily Mogeni, a very nice woman who is there as a nonpartisan observer from Kenya.
Eventually two of the observers make it inside, where a worse transgression of the law arises. This precincts clerk, abetted by three Republican observers, is giving provisional ballots to people who had requested absentee ballots but arrived at the polls anyway. Having made a request for an absentee ballot, however, is not grounds for a provisional, so the Kerry-Edwards people dispatch Mark Solomon, a local attorney, who arrives and helps set things straight, but not before 50 people cast provisional ballots.
6:45 p.m. The Bush signs are out in this part of Pompano Beach, at a polling station in an American Legion building just off South Dixie Highway. On recommendation from a Kerry-Edwards staffer, I race there with a few minutes to spare before polls close at 7 p.m. Like most polling places, it seems calm when I arrive. The two Democratic observers outside characterized the day as having been one of honorable disagreements.
Those disagreements were the usual: unnecessary provisional ballots; clerical errors and misinterpretations; partisan volunteers calling each other evil. But from the poll workers we havent seen anything malicious, said Brian DeLaurentis, one of the Democratic observers. Although we did save a chunk of votes, added his colleague David Addlestone. You should have seen it, this one man we helped came out and hugged Brian. Brian blushed in the dark. Its true, he said. He was grateful.
7:23 p.m. Ive been talking for a half-hour with a very nice but highly delusional Bush supporter named Lynn, when I realize that Im trying to persuade her not to vote for Bush despite the fact that shes covered head-to-toe in Bush-Cheney graphics and holding Bush-Cheney signs and shes already voted anyway. I thank her, she offers to pray for me, we hug and part ways.
8:03 p.m. The Broward County Voting Equipment Center is a faceless building on a small street near downtown Fort Lauderdale. The place is filled with reporters, mostly local television, and as usual, the cameramen are bossy. There are little white monitors showing election coverage, and Tom Brokaw is calling Virginia for Bush. I glance at another monitor and see that Illinois is blue. But who cares about Virginia and Illinois? All eyes are on Ohio and Florida, where early exit polls are showing razor-thin margins that give a slight tilt to Kerry. Im excited, of course, about John Zogbys early call of 311 electoral votes for Kerry props to the one pollster who goes out on a limb but things could change fast.
And if they did, here would be the place to find out about it. This is where the 692 Personal Election Ballots the touch-screen flash-memory cartridges that carry the votes from each precinct are returned after the polls close. Theyre delivered through the loading dock, separated into canvas bags, and tabulated in an adjoining secure area that we can see through windows but cant enter. The TV reporters are preening in preparation and knocking people out of the way already.
8:49 p.m. Something is drawing people to the plasma screen in the window of the tabulation room. Its returns from early voting: Bush, 33.46 percent; Kerry, 65 percent. A good start, although not surprising in Broward. The action breaks up quickly as everyone scurries back to their seats with this bit of news. I discover my chair has been co-opted by a Spanish-language television reporter with hair that, upon close inspection, is not perfect.
9:52 p.m. A group forms around the canvassing-board table. Republican lawyers, fittingly clad in black (except for little red, white and blue enamel elephants on their lapels), lean across the table toward the canvassing-board members as they go through absentee ballots that have been challenged. Boxes checked, looks good, Ilene Lieberman, one of the board members, says. These are fairly consistent and good. The Republican lawyers hover over her like dirty seagulls eyeing a crop of cute little fuzzy newborn penguin chicks to devour. Theyd love to take over this nest.
10:02 p.m. Things are changing fast. Larry Davis, an attorney for the Kerry-Edwards legal team, is standing by. He was involved in the re-count and spent some time in this room in 2000. Hed been looking upbeat an hour ago but wears a dour grimace now. The exit polls were showing a slight edge for Kerry all day, but Broward County is not coming through as the Democratic powerhouse the party had expected. The margin for Kerry now in Broward is 188,000, says Davis. Gore got 208,000. We wanted to get 225,000. That was optimistic. But we need to do better than Gore did.
10:18 p.m. A Republican lawyer makes her way to an associate producer for 60 Minutes and says, Good news, turnout in Broward is only 60 percent. Shes trying hard not to look so pleased that her partys success relies on the failure of democracy.
10:45 p.m. The tide has turned in Florida. Larry Davis is shaking his head. All the predictions were off again the final polls, the exit polls, the anticipation of GOP shenanigans, the eyes on Broward and Palm Beach. Already, on the little white monitors, Ohio is shaping up to be the new Florida, with a much closer margin and early talk about the provisional ballots. I follow Davis to the home of Paul Hancock, another lawyer working with the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Hancock argued Bush v. Gore before the Florida Supreme Court in 2000. Hancock has a tap with draft beer in his own back yard, but thats lifting no ones spirits.
Midnight: By now, were wondering how this could have happened. Turnout, its clear, wasnt high enough in Democratic core areas or in other hopeful demographics, like the youth vote, so maybe all the hype about voter mobilization was just that. But why, then, did all the exit polls show leads for Kerry in Florida and Ohio and much bigger leads in the states he carried? What accounts for that discrepancy? Could be the touch-screen machines, the conspiratorial minds among us speculate. Maybe thats why we didnt see the Republican onslaught because it was mounted electronically. Im not convinced thats a possibility, I say, pulling my third beer. But youre not convinced its impossible either, Stephen says. This is true.
3:10 a.m. By now, CNN has called Florida for Bush. Ohio is too close to call. Were not going to know anything until tomorrow, Larry says just before leaving. Hancock goes to sleep. Wolf Blitzer is running hypothetical electoral-vote combinations, including one with a tie, but it quickly becomes clear the prize is Ohio, where Kerry is down by more than a hundred thousand votes. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohios secretary of state, says they wont begin counting the provisional ballots, which may number as many as 175,000, for 11 days. Edwards makes a statement about the Democrats owing it to the American people to have every vote counted. It seems like a long shot, but I guess its worth it.
4 a.m. Im not giving up hope. I start to console myself with the thought that at least there will be no doubt as to whom to blame when the shit really hits the fan over the next four years. When a dirty bomb does go off somewhere, it will be because Bush chose not to secure the worlds loose nuclear material and not because John Kerry spoke out against the Vietnam War. Not like I want that to happen, but Im very worried it will, and Cheney will have to eat his lying words with that sideways-smirking mouth of his. When the world is on fire, and there are zombies running through the streets, at least we will have the satisfaction of pointing our melting fingers at the nearest Republicans and saying, This is all your fucking fault.
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