DURHAM, NC--It's raining in Durham, which tends to mean bad news for Democrats, but Republicans in this county look to be having a rougher start to Election Day.
The McCain office, which admitted it had been having trouble recruiting volunteers the last few months, had depended on a last-minute surge in volunteers and signs to get out the vote. They also planned to keep a close eye on the Obama campaign, which had purportedly been bringing in impaired people from nursing homes and residential care facilities during early voting and assisting them in checking straight-ticket Democratic.
Yet, this morning the director of the McCain office was in woeful spirits. There were IT issues (the technician, when he arrived, was wearing an "I Voted" sticker); several of the polling places were exercising their right not to have signs or volunteers; and, worst of all, due to miscommunication, the Republican slate of poll-watchers had not been received by the Board of Elections. Without poll watchers, the McCain campaign couldn't contest any ballots.
The oversight was potentially bad not only for democracy--it's obviously better to have representatives from both parties at polling sites--but particularly demoralizing for the McCain campaign in Durham, which hasn't had much of a ground game. The Obama campaign has had so many volunteers that the local headquarters has splintered into twenty staging locations, which are doling out walk lists, street corner signs and granola bars and bananas. The McCain campaign, on the other hand, has been confined to a room for phone banking and a well-organized system for distributing yard signs.
Yet, for all the McCain campaign's glumness, the reality is that a lack of poll watchers will not likely matter. Don Beskind, a lawyer representing the Obama campaign who spends Election Day with the Director of the Board of Elections (in this presidential election or last, the Republicans have not sent their own counterpart), said never in his knowledge has a ballot in Durham been contested. In truth, the county runs a pretty smooth operation: so far this morning, the worst that has happened is a fallen tree, which caused a temporary power outage and a twenty-minute delay in opening one polling location.
More than anything else, the snafu with poll watchers is only the latest episode in the contest-beneath-the-contest, the ongoing competition between the two campaign operations. So far, there have been grumblings about the glut of Obama volunteers at the polling locations and accusations of yard sign stealing on both sides. The McCain campaign has even provided a security guard to stay at headquarters from 1am to 9am, just in case someone tries to damage the property. (The guard, who also helps out answering the phones in the mornings, said she'd never had any issues.)
For their part, voters remain oblivious to the Sturm und Drang of the campaigns' internal operations. A quick scan of polling locations around town shows short lines, a lot of umbrellas, and cheerful voters pleased to be exercising their rights.
UPDATE: It turns out that not having very many poll watchers in Durham may matter more to the Republicans than originally thought. Democratic poll watchers are taking advantage of their insider-status to check the voting rosters against the campaign's targeted list and send text
message updates to the party alerting them to who has not yet voted so canvassers can be dispatched. The Republicans, obviously, now have no such access.