Saturday, October 25, 2008

Voting in North Carolina

Today, thanks to the wonder that is early voting, I voted in my first presidential election since moving South.

I have to say, it was a simply wonderful experience. Though the electoral equivalent of the Battle of Gettysburg may be raging in the state as a whole, the contest here in Durham is more like Picacho Pass. There's some blustering, and burning of hay, but the casualties are minor. Durham, simply put, is as blue as it gets. Still, it has been an interesting electoral experience for a number of reasons.

1) The battle-fury of the state has inspired people here. Each time a new voter cast his or her ballot into the electronic-era's version of a marble jar, the room erupted into a huge cheer. It was wonderful, this feeling that our votes matter. Most of these new voters were African American or hispanic. The election volunteers were almost exclusively white and over 65, and it was these volunteers that cheered louder than anyone. If that doesn't stand as an example of just how far we've come as a city in mending the terrible legacy of race relations in North Carolina, I don't know what does.

2) As I stood in line, car after car arrived driven by volunteers working to take those with limited transportation to the polls. One of my favorite moments was the Prius that arrived decked out in Obama stickers to deliver an elderly woman in a wheel-chair wearing a McCain-Palin button. The line of voters (mostly wearing Obama t-shirts) moved her right to the front of the line.

These were my favorite things. But I noticed something else too, something that made me thankful that, for all the partisan bickering of the last few weeks/months/years, it really is nice to have a 2 party system, and it'd be even better to have a few more parties in the dance hall. In local elections here, many candidates run unopposed. Pragmatically, this is a wise move for the state GOP. Republicans have a snow-ball's chance in hell of getting elected in Durham, and it's better to spend what funds haven't been allocated to Nieman-Marcus to run candidates in Raleigh. But in more than a few races for local attorney and judge positions, the unopposed candidates are, well, douche-bags, a fact I was made aware of not by local news coverage (reporters pretty much leave uncontested offices alone in their endorsements and review) but by bar-room chat with the progressive lawyers I drink with. It gives me a sense of understanding about why people in Kansas vote the way they do. When everyone you interact with and every local media outlet you have access to has the same political view you do, its just about impossible even for an educated voter to have a grasp of just how weak their party's position may be on some issues.

For now, I'll give these local candidates the benefit of the doubt, but one need look no farther than our former DA to see what happens when candidates are allowed to pander only to their base. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled with the very real possibility that my state will elect a Democrat for president and that the long reign of Libby Dole may at last come to an end. But it is worth remembering that a little bit of The olde Venice Treacle, while bad for fevers, is good medicine for politics.

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