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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An up-close look at democracy in action

I spent yesterday (and I mean the whole day -- 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.) working as a Ramsey County election judge, and it was an eye-opening experience.

The precinct where I worked wasn’t even one of the busiest in town, attracting about 1,100 voters during the 13 hours the polls were open. But there was a long line to start the day, and voters came in steady streams throughout.

The evidence that Minnesota saw near-record voter turnout was confirmed by the hundreds of first-time and newly-registered voters, and the willingness of people to go the extra mile to make sure others got a chance to cast a ballot. On a regular basis, registered voters from the neighborhood -- including folks from the precinct’s halfway houses and homeless shelters -- returned to the polls with friends, roommates and neighbors who wanted to vote, too. (Under Minnesota law, a registered voter can “vouch” for the residency of anyone who lives in the same precinct, even if that person doesn’t have a permanent address.)

Even though no TVs or radios were allowed inside the polling place, the stream of new and young voters gave me a strong hunch about how the presidential race would turn out. That hunch was confirmed when, after closing, the precinct’s chief election judge ran the final tally and found that almost 900 voters (more than 80 percent) of voters in this mostly white, overwhelmingly working-class precinct voted for Barack Obama.

The enthusiasm of the voters even carried over into the judicial elections. Many voters who were advised to examine both sides of the ballot were glad to discover they would have a say in who their judges would be, and a few even brought notes into the voting booth based on research they had done on the judicial candidates.

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