Monday, November 3, 2008

In the Belly of the Bellwether

About being the "bellwether" in this election: It's wonderful and horrible. I've been grateful to be in a spot where - in some small way - I might possibly help tip the election toward Barack Obama. Now, on Election Eve, I'm nervous as hell.

Technically, Athens County, where I live, isn't even the bellwetheriest part of Ohio. That has been variously identified as Chillicothe, west of here, or Perry County, which abuts Athens to the north, or maybe the entire southeast region of Ohio. The town of Athens itself is a little island that combines progressive politics with the kind of neighborliness that you thought went out of fashion after 1959. It's dotted with nearly as many Obama yard signs as there are houses. Athens County voted 63% for John Kerry in 2004, which I believe only Cuyahoga County topped.

We aren't at all typical of the region, though. Much of the surrounding county suffers from rural poverty (though generally not as bad as what I encountered this weekend). Our neighboring counties are even worse off; in August of this year, three of the state's six counties with unemployment rates upward of 10 percent were adjacent to Athens County.

And so it's not at all surprising that people in southeast Ohio often feel disenfranchised. This feeds into my three big fears for tomorrow:
  • Republicans will try to suppress the vote through challenges to voters at the polling places and various other tactics.
  • Democrats may stay home because they think Obama's got it sewed up and their vote doesn't matter anyway.
  • Racism may prove more durable than we've all hoped.
At school pickup today I heard a rumor that the GOP has been using robocalls to deceive some Athens voters into falsely thinking that their polling places have changed. Maybe this is just a rumor. If the vote is close, though, I expect that Republicans will comb through every last voter registration, hunting for the most minute or irregularities.

Based on my occasional canvassing work over the past month I'm pretty sure people aren't too complacent. When asked if they planned to vote, people quite often said they'd already voted early. Of the rest, most said "I wouldn't sit this one out for the world." At least in and around Athens, the general sentiment is that this is a historic election and we'd be fools not to vote.

Apart from those who live in the most grinding poverty, even a lot of the less likely voters sound motivated. Yesterday, I dropped off literature at a trailer home where a dead deer lay in front of the steps. The residents were in the yard. They told me they were definitely going to vote on Tuesday.

As for my third worry, racism? Well, that's a topic for my next post.

Update 11:15 p.m., November 3: In an all-too-apt illustrations of how rumors spread and morph, I botched the one above. I originally wrote that postcards were allegedly being used to deceive Athens voters about their polling places. At my local Obama campaign headquarters tonight, other volunteers set me straight on the actual allegation, which involved robocalls to do the same thing. Either way, it's second-hand information. I've updated my post to reflect the most accurate gossip I could gather. :-)

No comments: