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Slow Voting Process in St. Louis


According to the latest polling reported in Taegan Goddard's Political Wire; Obama and McCain find themselves at a classic 'Mexican standoff,' in the battleground state of Missouri. The most recent Public Policy Polling Survey reported that both candidates are tied in a dead heat at 49%. A 'key finding' of the Public Policy Polling Survey flatly stated that ....

"If Obama could keep his deficit among white voters in the state within single digits he would be in good shape to win it, but he currently trails 55-43 with that demographic. His 93-7 advantage among black voters evens that out, which means that the winner in Missouri could have a lot to do with the relative proportions of black and white voters within the electorate."

The relevance of this statistic cannot be underestimated, as Missouri has a long, bitter history of racism and the accompanying voter suppression tactics of many southern states.

Consequently, the Obama camp has dispatched teams of 'official poll watchers,' to numerous polling places in historically black or racially diverse areas, ready to report any incidence of suppression tactics.

Already this election day, many polling places in poor or minority neighborhoods face unreasonably long lines and a shortage of paper ballots. My own voting experience began at 5:15 am, some 45 minutes before the poll opened. At that early hour, the line snaked around the school building, down the sidewalk to the street. Already there was talk of a paper ballot shortage, though there seemed to be enough.

Poll workers were meticulous but slow moving. Most voters used the optical scanner device which accepts paper ballots. Though many voters were willing to make their selections with their own pens and place ballots in the optical scanner; the poll workers in St. Louis County insisted that we wait until they lead each one of us INDIVIDUALLY to small, rickety 'voting stands,' and use THEIR PENS. After this mind numbingly slow process; we HAD to be led to the optical scanner AGAIN INDIVIDUALLY BY THE POLL WORKER. This entire process probably doubled voter wait times. Comments about arriving late to work, and being docked some pay--flowed like the 'prophetic milk and honey in the promised land.'

As Rachel Maddow, recently noted--voting wait times of several hours represent a covert 'poll tax.' Many people in these neighborhoods are hourly wage earners who cannot afford to lose a day's wages. For far too many, a day's wages make the difference between paying the rent or facing the street. St. Louis IS part of the 'rust belt' in the Midwest, facing major labor cutbacks in private corporations like Edward Jones, American Airlines and Chrysler, and other cutbacks by public employers such as St. Louis Public Schools, the state's largest school district. Vote wait times approaching a half day or a full day ARE A POLL TAX, yet Democratic Secretary of State Carnahan, failed to make the issue of unduly long wait times--an issue of equal voting rights.

As in many urban areas, rumors fly about voting issues. Here in St. Louis, many minority voters have been misled into thinking that the mere instance of voting may trigger an on-site investigation into any outstanding warrants, and immediate arrest. The presence of police at many polling sites only contributed to this fear. Other minority voters told me they believed that voting would end promptly at 7:00pm and anyone still waiting in line would lose their chance to vote. Another rumor dealt with the voting rights of homeless people. They have no stable place of residence, so are they disenfranchised?

The Missouri Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan, has voter education facts on her website, but no outreach program was evident. Paper ballots were provided for the optical scanner, but most polling places only ordered 1 to 2 optical scanners, which limited a voter's options, due to even longer wait times. My polling place had 12 voting stands for paper ballots and 4 touch screen machines. When I voted this morning, there were some 400 people waiting in line. I was voter number 99.

Both St. Louis City and St. Louis County Boards of Election Commissioners claimed that sufficient touch screen machines and optical scanners were made available based on previous recorded voter turnouts. When poll watchers phoned in; waiting lines in more affluent areas of St. Louis County were significantly shorter than their lower income, urban counterparts. Wait times in one wealthy burg, Ladue, Missouri were a fraction of St. Louis City, with extra machines in place. (It should be noted that George W. Bush's cousin, Bucky Bush--resides in Ladue).

Just yesterday, Sarah Palin was in Jefferson City, reminding the all-white crowd about the 'bad terrorists,' and the stupid democrats who want to just wish them away. As before, Palin fails to understand our government's role in any creation of new and improved terrorists by the illegitimate Bush preemptive war policy. Maybe the Iraqis hate us because our government bombed them back into the stone age! Consistent with the Bush/Cheney strategy pushing constant fear--Palin dishes up some piping fresh threats and latent bigotries aimed at the other--those who look different from the average white bread WASP.

It's clear the strategy has been to widen the racial divide in Missouri, using 'terrorism' and ' Country first,' as racial code words. Every time she emphasizes Obama's middle name of 'Hussein,' you can see the bigots foam at their twisted little political mouths. Apparently, if McCain/Palin can't win on the facts--they would enter the Oval Office by widespread fear and outright voter suppression.

While 'Bucky Bush' conveniently casts his vote for McCain/Palin--perhaps only fashionably late for lunch at the racially restricted St. Louis Country Club--many hourly wage earners waiting several hours to vote, worry if they can pay the rent on a day's less wages.