Tuesday, 4 November 2008

And even more stats...

Last bunch of stats coming up for the anoraks amongst you. (Why do I get the feeling I am writing this for an audience of one, Hopi?)

They allow early voting in Florida; since October 20th people have been able to vote in person and quite a few have chosen to do so. As at close of play today (eve of poll) 31% of registered Democrats in Miami-Dade county had voted, compared to only 20% of registered Republicans. At the risk of being a real anorak, that’s 171,777 Democrats cf. 78,180 Republicans. (That excludes the c.150,000 absentee ballots – i.e. postal votes – where Republicans always outnumber Democrats).

So… Sunday being the last day for early voting, we went to visit a couple of polling stations, at the Lemon City Library and then the North Miami Public Library. It was phenomenal. Huge queues of people (although we soon learned not to call them that, and to ask ‘how long have you been waiting in line’. A queue is something you play pool with).

Some people waited for more than 7 hours to cast their votes. It brought to mind those pictures of millions of black South Africans queueing to vote after apartheid was ended (and these were mostly black people too). People with disabilities were allowed to bypass the queue, but I spoke to one woman who was 8 months pregnant who’d been standing in line for 5 hours. And then the rain started….

It absolutely bucketed it down. “The rain is from McCain” one of our number kept shouting as we moved down the line handing out cookies, granola bars, bottles of water, and bin liners. OK, we got absolutely soaked, but compared to those who were standing in line for five, six, seven hours, it was nothing.

Wouldn’t of course be able to hand out goodies to voters in the UK, it would be regarded as ‘treating’, i.e. attempting to buy votes, but apparently this was OK because it was being offered to everyone and wasn’t actually from any candidate’s campaign. It was, I think, courtesy, of the SEIU, the union for service sector workers.

The line closed at 5pm, but anyone who’d joined it before then was allowed to vote, regardless of how long it took for the queue to go down. I’ve got a picture somewhere of us with the last man to join the line, who came equipped with a huge umbrella and a fold-out chair, much to the envy of those in front of him.

So why did it take so long? Basically, not enough polling stations, not enough staff, not enough printers, and a long and confusing ballot paper. On election day there will be 550 polling stations in Miami-Dade county; for early voting there were only 20. Because people could choose which station they went to, and because some of the ballot papers varied from precinct to precinct, each ballot paper had to be printed out individually. (Whereas on election day you have to go to your local polling station and the ballot papers will be ready for you). Why then, you might ask, do people opt for early voting instead of waiting till election day? Partly I think because they didn’t trust the system, and at least thought that if they voted early and something went wrong – e.g. they were turned away at the polling station – there might be time to sort it out. And partly because they were expecting even bigger queues on election day, though given the turnout figures so far, I don’t think this will be the case.

We chatted to loads of people in the lines, and also just as we were walking round Little Haiti earlier in the day; for a lot of them this was the first time they’d ever voted. Quite touching really, particularly given how poor most of them were. (We’re talking families living in two rooms, with beds in the living room and, in one case, just stuffed sacks to sit on. They’ve got no jobs, no health insurance – far poorer than anything you’d see in the UK).

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