Election Fever Strikes the Flatiron Neighborhood – A Sampler
All eyes in the Flatiron district and its environs, as well of the New York City Seminar and Conference Center and its patrons, turn to the elections! Pundits and experts on both sides of the aisle have weighed in on how “superstorm” Sandy would affect voter turnout in regions most directly impacted by the devastation. Many have speculated that exhaustion and/or logistical issues at the polls would prevent citizens from casting their ballots, likely to the detriment of President Barack Obama, who faces the prospect of losing the popular vote even if the swing states deliver him a narrow Electoral College victory.
Waterside Plaza, an apartment complex located on the East River in the 20s that houses over 5,000 full-time residents, certainly meets all the criteria of a Sandy-ravaged area. Until last night, all four of its buildings were without power and water. Building 30, home to roughly a quarter of Waterside’s population (including this very reporter), still lacks both utilities.
Voters in Waterside are typically accustomed to casting their ballots on the plaza. This year, however, due to the storm damage, the polling stations have been relocated to the Asser Levy Recreation Center on Asser Levy Place between 23rd and 25th Streets. Poll workers, consisting of both paid staff and volunteers, were in agreement: so far, voter turnout has been anything but light. Miriam Rodriguez, a poll coordinator with eight years of experience, put it this way: “It’s going to be crazy today, better than the last election. It certainly has been so far.”
Miriam’s assessment is borne out by the experience of at least one electoral official. Dana, a poll worker, Democratic inspector and, following an impromptu early-morning promotion, a chairman, claimed to have distributed 159 ballots as of 11:00 PM this morning, and expects to hand out many more before the polls close at 9:00 PM.
“People are trying to come in, they’re really trying to come in. They’re really coming in; they’re motivated, very motivated,” reported Rob, an official who has been taking stock of voter turnout since early this morning.
Joe Levezo, a voting clerk tasked with manning the doors, offered a slightly less rosy, but by no means grim, picture of voter turnout. “It’s lighter than the last one, but about the same as the one before that,” he said. This is not surprising, given that 2008 yielded record voter turnout across the nation. Pollsters have predicted since well before the 2012 campaign began that turnout this year would be lighter. Nevertheless, such indicators could be consequential, especially in swing states where the final results are expected to be close.
In all fairness, the officials at Asser Levy and, indeed, throughout all of New York City, have a vested interest in high voter turnout. This is due to the fact that Democrats typically fare better in national elections when more citizens choose to cast ballots. Republicans, on the other hand, have an advantage in likely voters. Therefore, high turnout could presage a good night for the former political party, while sparser turnout bodes well for the latter.
It is therefore no surprise that civic-minded individuals in the Flatiron and Chelsea neighborhoods of New York City (a.k.a .,those most likely to volunteer at polling stations) would encourage and/or project the image of high voter turnout. However, conversations with several poll workers revealed motivations that went well beyond mere party loyalty.
Kenneth, 20, is volunteering for the first time in 2012. “Of course I want the right person, in my opinion, to get elected,” he confessed. Given that some of the issues most important to him in this election (excluding the economy) are green energy, gun control and education funding, it’s not difficult to guess where he stands on the question of who should serve as president of the U.S. for the next four years. However, he also expressed less partisan motivations: “I wanted to help out my community. Everyone should vote, because we are all Americans.”
Another poll worker volunteered for different, but no less commendable reasons. “I’m a retired military officer and I firmly believe in exercising your rights under the Constitution and voting is one of the primary rights,” she explained. “If you’ve ever been overseas where they’re not allowed to vote, you’d never miss the opportunity to exercise your right to vote. And so, I thought, I gotta do more than that and become involved in the process.”
Talking to people with such strong love of country and passion for democracy was, on one level, inspiring. Alas, it also served to underscore the complete and utter travesty that is our anachronistic Electoral College system. The thought that all of this hard work on the part of volunteers like Kenneth, as well as the voters that he is dedicated to assisting on election day, makes little practical difference in the outcome of the presidential election just because they happen to live in a blue state speaks to the need for fundamental change in our electoral system. The same holds true for a solidly red state like Texas.
As Americans stay glued to their television screens tonight and, likely, into the early hours of the morning, observing the smallest of developments in a handful of swing states, they would do well to take a step back and consider what kind of democracy chooses leaders based on the voting preferences of such a minuscule percentage of its electorate.