Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Voter Intimidation?

This Super Tuesday morning, I walked the four blocks from my apartment to the Urbana Municipal Building to cast my vote in the Illinois primary. For the first time in many years, Illinois is holding an open primary this year, meaning independent voters (like me!) are allowed to vote for candidates of the major parties. You only get to vote in one party's primary, however. So when I walked into the polling station this morning, I was asked aloud to state the party in whose primary I wanted to vote.

Now, because this is Illinois, the Democratic candidate I like the most--Barack Obama--is expected to win the Democratic primary by a landslide. Shoot, we elected him as senator in a landslide back in 2004: 70% of the vote (actually, I'm surprised he wasn't elected by a larger percentage of the vote, given that he was running against complete nutjob Alan Keyes).

So anyway, the Democratic guy I want to win is gonna win my State, and win big. So I decided to vote in the Republican primary. Why? Because I really like John McCain and really despise the other major players: Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Before I even reached the polling station this morning, I decided I would vote Republican to "do my part" to prevent Romney and Huckabee from ever having a chance to run screw the country.

But here's the deal: asking for a Republican primary ballot in my liberal, Democrat-dominated city is like shouting "Beelzebub!" in a church service. All heads turned, and if they hadn't turned when I said "Republican" to the first election judge at the table (a Democrat), they turned after he loudly repeated "Republican." I immediately felt uncomfortable. The other election judges laughed that "oh, you're one of that dying breed" and pointed to the meager stack of completed paperwork for folks who had voted Republican today (22 deep at the time--how do I know? they told me the tally out loud) compared to the much larger stack of paperwork for those who had completed Democratic ballots (122 deep--also counted out loud for me).

I did get a quiet, affirmative smile from the one Republican election judge for my precinct--which was weird, considering the fact that she and I probably agree on very few issues! But the other judges continued to joke and laugh as I moved down the table, completing the paperwork, confirming my registration in the precinct, verifying my address and signature against those they have on file, and finally putting a Republican ballot into a privacy folder and handing it to me.

At the end of the room were six voting booths with cloth curtains and one without a curtain. All the curtained booths were occupied at the time. One of the Democratic election judges--a really old lady with a really squeaky voice--squeaked: "you can use that unconcealed booth, son, if you feel comfortable."

Well, no, actually. I didn't feel comfortable at all. "I'll just wait for one of the other booths, thanks."

Once I emerged from the booth, another Democratic election judge demonstrated how I should feed my ballot into the optical scanner/ballot box. I recognized him as a University librarian. I was sad when he said he recognized me as well.

Okay: I'm not at all concerned that my vote was tampered with or not counted or whatever... but I had a decidedly unpleasant experience voting this morning--the first unpleasant experience I've had in the ten years that I've been a voter. I don't think it was a big deal--but I do think it was far more unpleasant than it had to be. Even though I'm not a Republican--I'm much closer to being a Democrat than a Republican--I felt that I was loudly identified as a Republican to everyone in the room, a room where being a Republican was pariah. The laughs and jokes made me wonder what that librarian will think of me the next time I see him in the library.

Definitely unpleasant. Harassment? Naw. Voter intimidation? Maybe.

I am contemplating contacting the County Clerk (the elected official that oversees voting here in Champaign County) to discuss. Maybe the Clerk will be able to insert some additional bit of election judge training before the real deal--the November election.

3 comments:

Pomoprophet said...

Um... thats not ok what they did. Thats voter intimidation and i'm pretty sure they HAVE to be neutral in all things. You SHOULD contact the county clerk. Because that could intimidate someone.

Which makes me want to rant about how liberals are always doing things like that. And crying foul when a conservative does something similar.

I probably would have made a scene and put those old people in their place. Which is why you're a better man than me. And why i'm a more avid conservative ;)

D.J. Free! said...

yes, you ABSOLUTELY should complain about that. i agree 100%. that's simply not right. no one should be made to feel like that for what they believe - unless of course they were actually voting for huckabee or romney.

kidding.

but seriously. no one should have to go through that in the voting process. i'm proud of you for being brave enough to go through that process!

Dennis said...

Joe, if this is your idea of voter intimidation - grow a thicker skin. Sounds to me like they were trying to inject a little humor into what is a thankless, boring volunteer service to the community. How 'bout walking a mile in their shoes and manning the voter registration table at the next election before you blog about your feelings as you cast a vote. A vote, by the way, that by your own admission was basically to place a person in nonimation that you have no intention of supporting in the general election. As a person who takes voting very seriously, I would argue that you - and others like you- should look in the mirror before moaning about how your cross party (you can't favor one party or candidate and still call yourself "independent")voting experience was awkward.