Ground-Game Reports: Ohio, D.C.

By James Fallows

This is part of the Continuing Festival of Election Eve updates, all day long.

Over the weekend, I posted some reader reports on ground-game trends in Missouri, Virginia, and D.C. These updates, starting with one from Ohio:

Here's a little feel for what's going on with the Obama campaign in the north west suburbs of Cincinnati.

After 14 months of phone calls and canvasing, I showed up to Obama headquarters in my GOP dominated town with a renewed enthusiasm and fresh legs. After knocking on 1000's of doors, mostly GOP and during weekday hours, I was pretty burned out only two weeks ago, but it was a lift to see a few familiar faces and a lot of new ones streaming in at 9am for canvass training as we kicked off GOTV. They were greeted by freshly made french sumatra coffee (fair trade and organic, of course), a selection of homemade muffins and the ubiquitous bottled water found at canvassing locations (hydrate, people!). Our canvass targets are Obama supporters who have spotty voting records, i.e. the people who are left when you subtract likely voters from registered voters (RV-LV). These are the ones that will pad Mr. Obama's margins, if the polls are correct, or will put him over the top in Ohio if they polls overstate his lead.

I talked with a lot of RV-LV voters this weekend on the 5 canvass runs I pulled off before sidelining myself with a head gash, a trip to the emergency room and 8 staples (I got a hard head, so I'll be bringing my kids to school, making the coffee and heading to the office in a couple hours). People were happy to see me and excited to get to the polls due partly to the belief that Mr. Obama has done all that could be done to pull this country from the bring of financial ruin and put it back on course for prosperity,...Easily 90%+ people I spoke with had a plan for getting to the polls before or after work on Tuesday, were planning to bring everyone of voting age in their house with them and, if able, work election day GOTV.

The few Romney supporters who made it on to my list were exceptionally gracious, one even taking the list of down ticket Democrats to give to her friend she had over for lunch. That right there is what makes being a foot soldier in democracy rewarding and why I tend to despise the Internet as a gauge of how polarized the electorate is. I have no doubt the pundit class and politicians are polarized, but at the end of the day, people are neighbors and we all want what is best for our children and country.

In this town there are two rented Obama staging locations -  the Obama office and a union operated on. Each had a slew of cars coming and going from 9am till 6:30pm. Our canvassers filled the strip mall parking lot, making sure to leave open the spaces in front of the retail shops. The Romney location is right around the corner. They had a full parking lot early Saturday that emptied as the day wore on and was mostly empty Sunday.

The earlier D.C. report showed a very long (and patient) line of people waiting to vote in Ward 7 -- with the reader's speculation that lines would be shorter in the richer and whiter parts of town. In reply:

My name is [XX] and I wanted to note a "feeling" that one of your commenters is wrong. He/she said:
"I get the feeling that early voting is less of a hassle in the much more affluent Northwest quadrant as it is where I'm living and that in five or ten years, when Southeast has been colonized by wealthier (and mostly whiter) citizens, things here will begin to change."
I was an early voting poll-worker at Judiciary Square, which covered Ward 2 voters (the commenter's affluent NW residents-Dupont, Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, etc), as well as voters across DC. The line wrapped around the building and the wait, some voters said, was as long as three hours. High turnout was one factor but also equipment breakdowns in other voting sites led to a flood of voters coming to Judiciary Square. So, really, not that much of a difference. On one side, Judiciary Square is a bigger site with more equipment and workers because it is supposed to be able to accommodate voters from all precincts. The downside of that is that Judiciary Square can get quite busy, if not busier than the satellite locations.
 
Election day might be different, but I think the DC Board of Elections does a pretty good job at trying to adjust workers and equipment based on population density. Anyways, the income and race divide does structure much of life here in the District, but I think voting is one place where I don't believe there to be much of a difference.

Similarly, from another reader:

I can offer first-hand experience refuting your reader's presumption that early voting is any easier in Northwest DC. I live in Ward 1, Columbia Heights - not the leafy surburb your other reader imagined by any means, but certainly a rapidly-gentrifying area. The first time I went to vote was a Saturday afternoon two weeks ago, and I was told the wait would be 2.5-3 hours. The line snaked around the gym several times, so I took the volunteer who offered that information at her word. When I tried again (no, I didn't wait the first time) in the early evening of Halloween, it took all of 20 minutes. Another, perhaps more complete,  counterexample comes from my girlfriend, whose early voting location is in Chevy Chase. Now that really is the embodiment of affluent Northwest DC, and she waited around three hours to vote.

By no means do I want to undercut the notion that voting is generally a more difficult proposition in more impoverished areas -- all the evidence points to that being true. At least in DC though, I can anecdotally attest that that isn't necessarily the case. It's not like there are any scheming GOP election officials here looking to suppress Democratic turnout! I think we also have to consider that there simply aren't enough resources devoted to the electoral process, period, such that a high-turnout scenario will create difficulties no matter how well-organized the local board of elections is.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/ground-game-reports-ohio-dc/264537/