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November 12, 2006

Election Day Miseries

Tom McLaughlin

Humor by Tom McLaughlin

Election Day turned out to be as bizarre and surreal as the Ocean City contests a few weeks earlier. My assignment: pass out literature for the Democrats and try to bring the resort in for O'Malley, Cardin et. al., which was as Mission Impossible as doing the same for Frederick County.

I returned to Convention Hall where voters could enter from three different directions along a stretch of about four football fields. No nice sidewalk leading to a school cafeteria.

Armed with stacks of literature I began at 5:30 A.M. erecting the signs only to find out they could be placed on city property but only under certain conditions. They could not lean against a tree or poked into the ground; but they could be placed into another type of structure that would hold the wires and signs up.

I had milk bottles filled with sand. One opponent brought bags of kitty litter in plastic containers where the wires were inserted. Another group came with blocks of wood and enough hardware equipment to build a condo. Wood was brought out; power sawed and holes drilled to anchor the candidates' missives. The electricity came from a generator. It made my milk bottle solution look like an eighth grade shop class project.

There were two or three of us Democrats and at least 30 Republicans campaigning for two different local candidates. Usually, there were just a few of both groups but this time the Republicans were loaded for bear.

Most Worcester County police departments targeted Joel Todd, the state's attorney, for defeat; something about too many plea bargains and not enough convictions. Young, strong, off duty officers were present, passing out literature for their candidate or holding and waving signs while at the same time I was supporting Mr. Todd.

At each entrance to the sidewalk leading to the voting booths, three or four of them remained stationary blocking my attempts. I darted around trying to get to the voters first with my literature. Because of their training, they did not budge as I tried to navigate around them, while chasing down a voter. Their one step was equal to five of mine.

Next came the teenagers. Dressed in Clorox white shirts with Mike James stenciled across it, they were also tall and formed a line with the police. I had to weave in and around this group, friends of the son of the Republican who was opposed to my candidate, Norm Conway for the delegate slot. They also held fast with the mother yelling directions on how to smile and wave the signs.

Now I had two groups to deal with and I was by myself except for 83-year-old "Rocky," who was putting flyers together and another candidate at the other end of the entrance. Meanwhile the center approach was clogged with about 30 of both candidates' supporters. Everybody but me was waving signs.

I just can't imagine what the voters thought approaching with white shirted, forced smiling high schoolers and muscled, out of uniform policemen and me bobbing around in and between both groups trying to thrust brochures into their hands, white hair flying.

I took a break and sat down in a chair just after dark. A pair of voters wandered too close and I asked them to take the literature. One replied, are you for or against gay marriage". I immediately realized they were partners.

"Are you going to vote Democrat or Republican, I inquired?

"Democrat" was the reply. I jumped up, hug and kissed them both on the cheek and told them they could have the wedding in front of my townhouse on the beach, I would be best man and Rocky would arrange the flowers. Jocularity all around. But I meant it.

Then came the rains; but this time I was prepared. I had purchased a rain suit. The jacket was bright red with black pants, made of rubber. I chased down every voter and handed him or her literature as they scurried in a run to the safety of the convention. But, as they saw me in the corner of their eye, they ran faster to the security of the 100-foot line where I had to stop because of no electioneering beyond that point. Coming out, they looked around warily.

Part two of my adventure.

I was the "challenger" to the compilation of the votes. I turned up with my authorization forms, with water dripping down my slicker and my hair plastered and wet.

I found "Ernie," the head election person, and he showed me the place to sit. I peeled off my stickers and observed. Trouble was I didn't know what I was looking at. The only thing I could figure out was to watch three people go to each machine and if there was any difference in their behavior at a machine, I would challenge.

Long adding machine tape poured out, the ladies closed up and sealed the machines and, with an eye on me, said in a loud voice "We must watch these at all times." Something happened to machine number 13 and I was asked, no firmly told, to come over and watch. A piece of the adding machine paper had torn and I, with great fanfare, watched them tape it.

I met the representative from Diebold, who queried me about what I was doing there. I informed her I was representing the Democratic Party as a challenger. In truth, I had no clue what I would challenge. I just looked important in wet jeans, smelly running shoes, and my hair awry.

Norm Conway won his election but Joel Todd was up by only one vote. During the absentee count he was down by two votes. Tomorrow they will count the provisionals and Friday the overseas ballots. Stay posted.

Yellow Cab
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