by D.J. McGuire
As you might imagine, Dear Reader, I had a very enjoyable Election Day as a conservative Democrat in Virginia. What you may not realize is how busy I was.
For campaign volunteers, Election Day is the culmination of weeks or months of preparatory work. In my case, having volunteered to be in charge of precinct organization for my local Democratic Committee in late summer, I had spent weeks calling, texting, and emailing volunteers – asking or begging them to oversee poll greeter recruitment at their polling places, driving around my home city (which in many respects is just a county by another name) to get sample ballots and signs to them, and directly managing (as best I could) about a dozen precincts where “precinct captains” (as we call them) couldn’t be found. I had help from my fellow committee members, to be sure, but I knew Election Day for me would be…busy.
Just how busy? Well, this was my November 7.
2:30 AM – Wake up to a text message from my “opener” (first, and as it would turn out, only volunteer) at a downtown precinct that she feels unwell and may not make it. She says she’ll update me at 4:30 AM, but by now I’m already up.
4:30 AM – The volunteer confirms she is ill. Her precinct will now become Precinct #1 for my schedule, and I have to go to her house to get the signs and sample ballots for it.
5:30 AM, Precinct #1 – Signs are up, and two voters are already waiting to vote (that strikes me as unusual, but I’ve never worked in this precinct for a gubernatorial election). We exchange a few pleasantries and then I’m off for Precinct #2, to meet a volunteer at 6AM (when polls open).
6:00 AM, Precinct #2 – Polls open, and I offer about half a dozen voters our index-card-sized Democratic Sample Ballots. All take them eagerly, but this is a 85-90% Democratic precinct, so that’s no real surprise. The volunteer arrives; we talk for a bit; and I make sure she’s comfortable with what I’m asking of her (mainly, thank them for voting and offer them a Democratic sample ballot). With that, I return to Precinct #1.
6:30 AM, Precinct #1 – I return just as the night begins to lighten (dawn is soon, but the cloudy sky ensures no sun will actually be seen). It’s 20 degrees colder than yesterday, and windier. I exchange texts with some precinct captains. Some of them have built up a volunteer group that will cover the day; others will stand or sit at the polling place themselves for 13 hours out of sheer determination. I’m in awe of these people (but I’m hoping next year we get an early start on volunteer recruitment so the latter bunch never have to do that again). Meanwhile, voters come in at a light stream, and seem very willing to take my sample ballot, but this is also a heavily Democratic precinct. I stay here for a couple hours (halfway through it starts to rain, natch), until I have to go up to Precinct #3, which is all the way up on the north side of the city.
8:30 AM, Campaign Headquarters – I swing by to drop off some sample ballots in case they get volunteers who would like to work the polls (despite our best efforts, there are still some gaps – especially in GOP-leaning precincts…and one where I haven’t been able to reach the precinct captain in two months). Then it’s off to Precinct #3.
9:15 AM, Precinct #3 – This is the first (and, as it turns out, only) “swing” precinct I will visit, and it’s the first time I’m getting a lot of no-thank-yous for my sample ballots. There’s a contest for Commissioner of Revenue, and both campaigns are in force, but both sides are friendly. I bump into a local Republican Committee member for the first time since I left the party (and the local committee) in May of last year. This is the first he’s heard that I’ve actually switched sides (I made no secret of my dislike for Trump and my threat to leave the GOP, but even in the spring of 2016, I did not expect I would become a Democrat). He’s not with his party’s campaign, though. In fact, I begin to realize that I haven’t seen a single Republican volunteer anywhere in my travels.
9:45 AM, Still Precinct #3 – What should have been my first sign that it was going to be a good night for the Democrats: a precinct captain texts me that she’s low on sample ballots. All precinct captains had roughly 15-20% more sample ballots than Democratic votes for Governor in their precincts in 2013. I rush to Precinct #4.
10:10 AM, Precinct #4 – I arrive with more sample ballots. The precinct captain was already down to half the amount I’d given her last week, and it’s a precinct where Democrats win 55-60% of the vote. But my thoughts are all about getting home, eating breakfast, and voting (none of the four precincts I’ve seen so far is my own).
11AM, Home – As texts come in discussing gaps in a downtown precinct, I try to call the precinct captain while I eat. It turns out her volunteers are also sick. This wasn’t what I thought “campaign fever” meant. Absent any immediate ideas for downtown, I go to Precinct #5 to vote.
11:30 AM, Precinct #5 – I vote. I look at my phone. I know I’ll be late to Precinct #6.
12:30 PM, Precinct #6 – I arrive to be told by the local Commissioner of Revenue campaign greeters (again, both candidates have a presence), the volunteer preceding me (who was already half an hour past the end of her poll greeting shift at noon) has just left. But no voters came in the interim, so at least there’s that. I’m here until the next volunteer arrives at 3. This is a gap that I chose to fill myself because it’s in the center of town, it’s close to headquarters, and it’s stonkingly Democratic (85-90% on average). We still have some gaps, so I ring up the local party chairman to ask where I should go after 3. She recommends I go back to Precinct #1. Meanwhile, they get walk-in volunteers to fill the downtown precinct gap (and give us partial coverage where the precinct captain went to ground).
1:30 PM, Precinct #6 – I get what should have been my second sign that things would go well. As voters leave their cars for the building, the local campaign staff descend upon them with literature for their respective candidates. That’s as expected. The surprise comes when I start to notice the folks from both campaigns are asking voters to wait for me to give them “the blue ballot”. This is my 22nd Election Day as a volunteer, and I’ve never seen this before. Yet as interesting as the behavior is, it’s not data – and it’s only one precinct anyway.
3:00 PM, Precinct #6 – The volunteer arrives; we talk for a bit; and I make sure she’s comfortable with what I’m asking of her (mainly, thank them for voting an offer them a Democratic sample ballot). With that, I return to Precinct #1. Yes, I copied that word for word from the 6AM update. It’s been that kind of day.
3:15 PM, Precinct #1 – I’m back, and ready to finish out the day here. Precinct captains start texting me voter counts, and it appears that turnout will be at least what it was in 2013 (I had expected less).
5:00 PM, Precinct #1 – The third missed sign of a good night comes from Precinct #7, where the captain texts me she’s running out of ballots. More worried about her actually running out than noticing the good turnout sign, I get in the car to go across town again.
5:20 PM, Precinct #7 – I see the precinct captain. She has four recycled and folded sample ballots left, with over an hour and a half to go! She’s very grateful for the batch I give her, but I can’t talk – I still have to go back to Precinct #1.
So, in less than twelve hours, I’ve been to seven different precincts, in five different boroughs (our term for wards)…and I’m not done.
5:45 PM, Precinct #1 – I’m back to where it all began, and go in for a vote count. Turnout is already 10% higher than 2013 – and there’s over an hour left. I frantically start texting other captains asking for counts. Three other Democratic precincts are already 12-15% above 2013 levels, while the Republican precinct hasn’t hit 2013.
6:15 PM, Precinct #1 – I hear from the “other Republican precinct” (I’ll explain why I used that label later). It’s 8% up on 2013 with 45 minutes to go. This sign I see: the Democratic precincts have higher turnout increases than the Republican ones. Still, it’s only six precincts, total – in one city.
6:45 PM, Precinct #1 – As I continue to offer sample ballots (and voters continue to eagerly take them), I look at some Virginia blogs that are covering E-Day. I find out Fairfax County (heavily Democratic county in Northern Virginia) has higher turnout than 2013, but in Chesterfield County (heavily Republican suburb of Richmond) turnout could be down. Another great sign, but there’s no word from anyone on the western, rural counties where the Trumpenproletariat is supposed to rise up and deliver Ed Gillespie to the Governor’s Mansion. I make one last vote count check: turnout in Precinct #1 is over 20% higher than in 2013.
7:00 PM, Precinct #1 – As I pick up the signs from this morning, the election official announces that the polls have closed.
We all know what happened afterward, but for me, the moment of the night – when I knew Ralph Northam had been elected – came around 7:45PM when the “other Republican precinct” came in…and went for Northam by six votes. We turned a Trump precinct blue.
It was that kind of night…after that kind of day.
D.J. McGuire is the conservative Democrat on More Perfect Union podcast – and sometimes feels like he is the lone conservative Democrat in the country, but Republicans keep making it easier for him.