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Rosalea Baker: An Election Viewed

Stateside With Rosalea Baker

An Election Viewed

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The photo above is the front page of the early edition of the national newspaper USA World on November 5, 2008. The later edition had the headline Obama Wins. Local papers here in the Bay Area are all offering their Wednesday editions for sale online—the paper boxes were cleared out in short order that morning.

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Although the U.S. still has a long way to go to match the voter turnout in other countries, this election’s record voter turnout was evident in the lines of people waiting to cast their ballots early. The photo above, taken in Oakland the Sunday before the election, shows the crowd outside the Alameda County Superior Court, which houses the office of the county’s Registrar of Voters in its basement, where they had set up an early polling place.

Under California law, any votes received in the seven days prior to election day, including those done at early polling places, are not counted until after the election day votes are counted. The time lag is to protect against people voting at their polling place on election day as well as by some other means. It may be nearly two months until the final results are known because of that.

I chose to vote on election day on my way home from work. At the polling place in my precinct there were a couple of extra poll workers compared to the last two elections in February and June, and no lines of people waiting.

One difference I noticed from the last time I voted was that the list of voters registered for the precinct was not just in alphabetical order, but sorted first on street. That meant that when you went to get checked off and be given a ballot, you were first asked where you lived before saying what your name. I didn’t proffer any ID and wasn’t asked for any. The HAVA and state requirements for providing voter ID are explained here on the California Secretary of State’s website.

The week before the election, I had a brief chance to interview Debra Bowen, California’s Secretary of State. In response to my question about how well California has met the HAVA requirement of having a statewide database of registered voters, she said that requirement had been met but “with more bubble gum and baling wire than I’d like to have.” The state is currently in the procurement stage of getting something better but Bowen was unable to give details because they’re in “the quiet time” of negotiations.

The state is also in the process of working on a “statistically sound, risk-based model” of auditing the vote, so that where there’s “greater risk” there’ll be a more stringent audit than the current random 1 percent of precincts. Bowen is convinced that vote counting “can get to 99.9 percent reliability by statistical methods” without hand counting. If the audit results differ 0.5 percent, it automatically escalates the audit to a random 10 percent of precincts.

The type of voting equipment my county uses is shown here. One improvement over the last time I voted is that I was actually able to get close enough to the machine to feed in my own ballot. There is no supermarket-style readout of what the machine said it recorded, so any audit obviously has to use the physical ballots as marked by the voter.

After voting, I went home and cooked up a big ole pot of Hoppin’ John, a Southern dish that, when eaten at New Year, is said to bring good luck. I’d been watching results come in from the Eastern states on my mobile on the way home from work, so was fairly confident who the winner would be. It seemed fitting to wish a new Administration good luck. They’re gonna need it.

I also had to eat my words. Back in 2004, I wrote this about Barack Obama’s appearance at that year’s Democratic National Convention:

“And why, on Tuesday night, was the convention center full of signs saying Osama? Oh, that was a B, not an S? Well, whose bright idea was that guy, anyway? An American African who grew up in Hawaii and edited the Harvard Law Review. Wow, he's really relevant to an African American voter in East Oakland whose kids have a life expectancy of about fourteen years on account of the drug turf wars in the streets. Ah, but he looked like the televangelist Creflo Dollar and had that same kind of come-to-Jesus delivery, I suppose.”

Clearly, it WAS a bright idea, and any doubts I had about Obama’s relevance to the people where I live were dispensed with last Friday morning. When I was riding to work on the bus, a black teenager sitting across from me confided to a fellow passenger that on the night after the election he had made a special trip to his grandmother’s grave to tell her that, yes, an African American had been elected President of the United States.

I leave you with this four-minute segment of Wednesday’s episode of a local ABC show “The View from the Bay”. One of the hosts, Spencer Christian, was remembered by ABC’s Charles Gibson during the network’s election night coverage. At the end of this segment is a brief clip of an interview the VFTB hosts did with Barack Obama back in 2006, which is before he announced his intention to run for President.



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