Confessions of a very small cog in a gigantic electoral machine
Four more years! At 9.18pm on Tuesday in the ballroom at the Denver Sheraton, we chanted for the last time. CNN had just called it for Obama. Supporters cheered, hugged, danced – exhilarated, disbelieving.
The local results far exceeded predictions, with the Colorado Democrats taking control of the State House and Senate.
The newly elected senators and representatives took the podium. The theme of the night was bipartisanship: one America. There were thanks to the volunteers, and praise for how the campaign was run.
The Obama ground campaign has been much reported on and hugely praised. As one very small cog in the machine, at times we didn’t feel as if we were making a difference.
A huge amount of time was spent for what seemed like very small returns: hours of walking the precinct knocking on doors, only to talk to a handful of people who were either not persuadable or already leaning towards Obama.
Recruiting volunteers felt like an elaborate pyramid scheme. A three-hour phone shift might recruit two volunteers. Some wondered if there was a better way.
In the last week, though, that all changed. People started returning mail-in ballots and voting early in person. We could see who had voted in our precinct. When you knocked at someone’s door, you could take their ballot, and make sure that it got to the station on time.
We arranged lifts for people to get to the polls. And we called voters, reminding them where to turn in their ballots, nagging them to get it done.
Tuesday was incredible. From 8am we knocked on doors, drove people to the polls, collected ballots, chasing down every last vote. We had a huge volunteer turnout. Back at the office, teams were marking off each voter as their vote was recorded at the polling station.
By late afternoon almost everyone in our turf in south Denver had voted. It felt like we had accomplished a lot. Before poll close we checked our stations: there were no long lines. Job done. All we could do was wait.
Four more years. In everyone’s mind was the hope that the next four years would be much better than the last four.
On the doorsteps, I would talk about the Lilly Ledbetter act, guaranteeing equal pay for women and minorities. Sometimes we would discuss reproductive rights, or same-sex marriage. But there were always issues that mattered to people that hadn’t been addressed in the last four years.
A lot has been said about the difference in the candidates’ vision – that this was a historic election offering very different views of America’s future, Romney’s late shift back to the centre notwithstanding.
You could feel that in talking to voters. They were disappointed in the progress on the economy, on climate change and a host of other issues. But they were also saddened by rhetoric from the other side: the “legitimate rape” comments, the cheers at the Republican primary when Ron Paul proposed letting the uninsured die on the street. They hoped those people didn’t represent their neighbours with Romney yard signs. The yard signs are coming down. Let’s hope the partisan spirit is in Washington too. Forward!
Emer MacDowell is a Dublin-born software developer who moved to Denver last month. She was a volunteer with the Obama campaign