Tuesday, November 4, 2008

VIRGINIA: AYUDA Reports From the Ground

AYUDA provides an update about on-the-ground efforts in Virginia to get out the vote, particularly in immigrant communities:

AYUDA is one of the region's most well-known organizations that provide legal services for immigrants. This year, we conducted a Latino Voter Engagement drive, focusing on key counties in Northern Virginia. Our activities ranged from polling Latino's about what issues are important to them when they vote to holding voter registration drives at festivals and soccer tournaments. The main goal of the program was to ensure that more Latinos participated in this election. Although there is a significant population of Latino voters, in previous elections they have turned out at much lower levels then other communities. Our GOTV efforts, up to election day, have strived to make this a possibility.

Despite the menacing weather, voters in Northern Virginia are turning out in full-force. The polling places that I visited in Woodbridge, Annandale, Springfield, Chantilly, and Centreville all seemed to be working smoothly. The most common problem facing the voters is sheer volume. Fortunately the lines have shortened as the day has progressed, especially after the lunch hour. I would venture to guess that they will grow again at the end of the work day; luckily Virginia's polls are open until 7 p.m.

Our day isn't all about checking the polling places, rather about getting people the reminders the want and need. Many Latino voters who we contacted during our GOTV phone bankings asked for email, calls,and text message reminders the day of the election.One of the voters who asked for an email reminder thanked me and enthusiastically said "ya estoy listo para votar", I am very ready to vote.

This sentiment is felt across board. Arriving at a polling place, one can detect an energy created by all of the excitement. This is such a historical year, and people want to be a part of it. One of the AYUDA staff members shared the story about her father. He is a first time voter this year becuase he has recently become a US citizen after living in the US as a legal resident for over 20 years. He was so excited by the process, and so inspired by one of the candidates, that he took off work today to make sure that he could cast his vote. As a truck driver, he would have been out of the state today and he was not willing to miss out on having his voice heard.

Today has not been free from complications, however. One voter in Fairfax county was turned away from the polls today because she had requested an absentee ballot but had decided to vote in person instead. She called Fairfax County and they told her that she should bring her absentee ballot to the poll and that she could vote in person. However, when she arrived they told her that she couldn't. She talked to an election protection person and has now travelled to the Fairfax County government center to get this taken care of.

Because of the long lines, some voters are experiencing setbacks. One voter in Alexandria had to wait in line over an hour, even though she arrived at 6:10 a.m. Fortunately, those who showed up for the polls an hour later were not faced with the same wait. The same voter had problems with the poll workers when she asked for a paper ballot. They tried to convince her of how great the electronic voting machines are, but eventually she was able to use a paper ballot as requested.

Since our staff and volunteers have offered to share their observations, I am also able to report on areas outside of Northern Virginia, including Germantown, Maryland. Claus Ortega, AYUDA's office manager arrived at the voting place in Germantown at 8 am and had to wait in line 1.25 hours. Claus noted that this is the first time in an election that he saw so many people in line early in the morning, but they all looked calm and happy to be there, there was a lot of cooperation from everybody in keeping order and helping anyone who wasn't sure what to do.He also noticed that there were no campaign workers distributing pamphlets or advising voters and that the amount of voting machines has been reduced to about 10 compared to previous elections in which there about 30. Another change was that at the beginning that caught Claus' attention was that he was asked for more personal information to get his voting card (first four letters of his last name plus first two letters of his first name plus the month and day of his birthday plus the name of the street where he resides.) In previous years, there were tables for diferent alphabet groups and all he needed to do was to provide his last name.

Although we have a few hours to go to see how many people turned out, at this point it is looking promising. From seeing the overflowing polling places, hearing accounts of much higher numbers from previous years, and the sheer excitement exuded by voters, it is easy to see that the turn out numbers will not be disappointing.

1 comment:

movie fan said...

it's awesome that there has been this "problem" of long lines all over... people taking a greater interest in public issues is always a good thing