If John Kerry emerges triumphant Tuesday, he will have thousands of volunteers to thank, including quite a few from Berkeley.
In the past several days and weeks northern California residents have flocked to swing states across the nation doing whatever they can to get Kerry supporters to the polls and mesh with the locals.
“Being from Berkeley I don’t think I’ve ever met an undecided voter before,” said Wendy Hallinan, a medical worker, who arrived in Las Vegas Monday. “It’s kind of shocking. I don’t know what to say to them.”
On Election Day, Hallinan will participate in the Democratic Party’s sophisticated get-out-the vote campaign aimed at moving traditionally Republican Nevada into the Kerry column.
Volunteers will track voters via palm pilots and swarm Los Vegas neighborhoods where turnout has traditionally been low, said Chris Krohn, the former mayor of Santa Cruz, who has been working for the Democratic Party in Nevada for the last 25 days.
With voters waiting for as long as two hours at early polling stations, Krohn said party volunteers have served food, drinks and even offered acrobats to entertain voters and keep them waiting in line to vote.
Internal Democratic Party polls show Kerry with a slight advantage in Nevada, Krohn said, but he added that party officials were concerned that the Republican Party would use state election laws to challenge voters on Tuesday. Nevada allows for election officials to review the eligibility of voters, a practice outlawed in Ohio by two federal judges on Monday. In prior elections, Krohn said Republicans had challenged first-time voters to disqualify them and slow lines at heavily Democratic precincts.
Krohn said he has already seen some dirty tricks. On Monday, he said, a man entered party headquarters claiming to be an electrician sent by the landlord to fix the lighting. A call to the landlord from party officials determined that the landlord hadn’t sent the electrician.
“I think they were trying to obstruct our computer system,” Krohn said.
Bob Burnett, a Berkeley resident volunteering for the Democratic Party in Boulder, Colo., said he has also witnessed shenanigans. He blamed Republicans for bombarding the Democratic Party’s e-mail system so messages couldn’t get through and said Republicans at the University of Colorado had told likely Democratic voters to go to the wrong precinct on Election Day.
Still, Burnett, who is working 15 hour days organizing volunteers and phone banks, is optimistic that despite most polls showing Colorado swinging towards Bush, Kerry will take the state.
“I’ve worked campaigns since 1968 and this is the best reception I’ve ever had,” he said.
In West Palm Beach, Florida, Muriel Waller, a retired environmental consultant, has encountered a more skeptical electorate.
“The real concern among voters I’ve talked to is that the election will be stolen again and that no matter how many more votes Kerry gets than Bush it won’t be enough,” the Berkeley resident said.
Waller said she was troubled to hear about a woman whose granddaughter spent money she earned working at a fast food restaurant to make 25 pro-Kerry t-shirts but couldn’t get any recognition from the Kerry-Edwards campaign.
“She told me that the campaign had been elitist in reaching out to college students but ignoring other college-age kids who joined the work force.”
About 70 miles to the south, Conchita Lonzano, a local attorney, spent Monday monitoring lines at early polling stations in Miami. The biggest challenge, she wrote in an e-mail, came from local Cuban-Americans who told voters in line that monitors like Lonzano were there to commit voter fraud and taking Cuban voters into booths and voting for them.
Lonzano met one woman who felt so harassed that she took a Bush button and pinned it “straight onto her ass” as a sign of protest.
All of the campaign workers are either paying for their own accommodation or staying with friends or a local family, yet they said they have no regrets at sacrificing money or comfort to make an impact on the election.
“After 2000 I promised myself I would do everything I could to make sure the election wasn’t stolen again,” Hallinan said. “Staying in Berkeley wouldn’t have done a whole lot.”