On Tuesday November 6, 2012 I did what many supporters of President Obama did; election protection. We were sent mostly to battleground states (if we weren't already living in one) to make sure the rules were followed and every voter got to vote. It may not sound glamorous, but I am certain that our work was in part a reason for the success of the much vaunted "ground game." You see, the other side cheats.
I don't mean all of them, there are many fine men and women who preferred former Governor Romney to President Obama. I don't agree with them, but that's what being American is about right? We are a country that is, or at least should be about sympathetic engagement, and the respect for differing views. I have been doing election protection for a while now, and have worked for Mr. Obama since 2007 in one form or another, so it's fair to say I am partisan.
But when an older citizen in East Chicago, Indiana came to find out if indeed she was still registered in 2008, I found out just how important my job is. Earlier in the day two blue-suited, red tied, short haired young white men from the McCain campaign had come into the polling place where I was working. They looked around, spoke patronizingly to the election judges and then left. Later an older Latina woman came into the polling place, she asked if we could find out if she was still registered. She was, and I told her she could vote right then if she cared to. She stood still, and a troubled look came over her face. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that she lived in a retirement home not too far away. Two men in blue suits with red ties had come in and announced to all the folks in the dining room that if that had not re-registered in the past six months they could not vote that day. "They were lying weren't they?" she asked, looking so sad. I told her they had been, called it in, and she voted. Later that day, I asked those men -- who of course I did not know for certain had been the two to lie to the older citizens -- if they had heard about this. I knew it was them, and they knew I knew, but they pretended otherwise. I wondered aloud how anyone can feel OK about lying to an old woman, and suppressing the vote. One of them looked slightly ashamed.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday. The lead up to this election was full of attempts by the Republican establishment to suppress the minority vote in Florida, in Ohio, and many other places. When the Pennsylvania voter identification law was passed, there was no doubt about why the law was passed -- to help Republicans win.
The president's campaign was worried, and not without reason. I was posted by the campaign in Muscatine, Iowa, a town I had never heard of before. It's a small city that is mostly white but with about a 15 percent Latino population. I speak some Spanish, so that is one of the reasons I was asked to go there. And it was a good thing I did.
Nothing untoward happened there this time -- that is nothing direct. The judges were very pleasant, three Republicans and two Democrats. They had come prepared for the very long day (6:45 a.m. to 9 p.m.) with food, knitting and lots of friendly chatter.
Nonetheless there were problems. Was it intentional that it appeared the election judges could never spell or seem to find an Hispanic name, but had no trouble finding other names? Or that there was no one there to translate other than me? Probably not. But I believe that what scholars call aversive racism was at work in this polling place. I found myself simply standing and walking over when I saw a minority voter come in, and I believe it helped. It likely was also resented, but I think it mattered.
I am proud to have helped make sure that every voter got to vote. People fought, marched, and even died for this right. We all have to remember that it is not okay to suppress any vote. But for me, I will remember one of the Latino voters I translated for, with some tears in his eyes, thanking me for my help and saying how it mattered to him that President Obama "knows I am a person." Indeed.