Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting in Virginia: A Series of Vignettes (AKA Play by Play)

Nine Thirty A.M:

I wake up. I check my e-mail. Overnight I got three e-mails from Provost Stearns.

The first sent out at 0:41 a.m. according to my notoriously unreliable e-mail timer (half the time it's in ET, the other half it's in CT)

To the Mason Community:

I hear some troubling rumors, so here are a couple of facts: 1. The
election is Nov. 4, for all political parties. The notion that one party
votes Nov. 5 is UNTRUE. 2. It is also UNTRUE that any student
jeopardizes financial aid by voting.

Peter N. Stearns

The Second, sent at 1:16 a.m.-

To the Mason Community:

Please note that election day has been moved to November 5th. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.

Peter N. Stearns

The third, sent at 8:08 a.m.

Dear Colleagues,

It has come to my attention early this morning that a message was hacked
into the system fraudulently stating that election day has been moved.
I am sure everybody realizes this is a hoax, it is also a serious
offense and we are looking into it. Please be reminded that election
day is today, November 4th.

Peter N. Stearns

I laugh, take a shower, and consider wearing a blue dress. To avoid looking biased, I go with a black and green ensemble with jeans instead. Time to look for new pants- there's a hole in my jeans a truck could drive through.

I then write a story up for youthvoteblog.com on it. First story of the day is -mine-. (If you don't feel like scrolling all the way to the bottom to see it, I've posted it in the next paragraph.)

9:52 a.m. (updated 2:26 p.m.) | Fairfax, Va.
GMU provost's e-mail account hacked on Election Day

In the early hours of Election Day, a person hacked into the e-mail system of George Mason University, sending out an e-mail to the student body that claimed Election Day had been moved to Nov. 5.

The message was sent out at 1:16 a.m. from Provost Peter Stearns's e-mail account. It read, "Please note that election day has been moved to November 5th. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you."

Stearns addressed the issue in a later e-mail that said, "It has come to my attention early this morning that a message was hacked into the system fraudulently stating that election day has been moved. I am sure everybody realizes this is a hoax, it is also a serious offense and we are looking into it."

A Student Government member volunteering with the Voters Van project, running students to the local voting precinct, said that volunteers already had had to field questions about the e-mail.

"We just got one guy. He was like, 'Wait, I thought voting was tomorrow,'" freshman Nicola Anderson, a native of Scotland, said. "We're just putting it down by saying Election Day is always the first Tuesday in November."

Student Government President Zack Golden thinks there will be consequences for the hacker.

"Whoever did that- when they get caught, they're going to be in major trouble," Golden said.

I then skip my first class (hey it's election day), eat some peanut M&Ms while watching American Dad on Hulu (in total flagrant disregard to my "don't watch TV without writing at least 1000-2000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel). I've determined that since it's election day, normal rules need not apply.

A little before Noon:

I walk over to the Sandy Creek parking deck to ride the Voters Van over to Woodson High School to vote. It's a bit of a dreary day, hovering around 58 degrees. I talk to a few of the volunteer van drivers out there, who couldn't tell me which group they were with but said they were affiliated with Obama's get out the vote group somehow. All their vans are painted with red white and blue stars and symbols. I think to myself- "so sketch"- as I watch two little Scholar freshmen I know get into a van with a twinge of guilt. I pray that they make it to the voting site.

After talking to the people at the official Student Government voters van tent a bit, a male student walks over and asks, "Isn't election day tomorrow?" (in response to the e-mail earlier). From the way he laughs as he walks away, the volunteers and I suspect that he may have been joking around.

An independent filmmaker wearing a bright red "Tribeca Film Festival" jacket talks to a few of the students.

I hop in the first van, driven by Student Government president Zack Golden, with some other students. On the way over, I try to ask a few questions of the girl sitting next to me- a friend from class.

"Do you know who you're voting for" -Me
"Yes" -Naomi
"Gonna tell me who?" -Me
"No" - Naomi
-van of people laughs-

At the voting place, I take pictures of the people outside.

I noticed several people unloading what seem to be a full vanload of Krispy Kreme donuts. After wondering briefly if they're star-shaped and free, I walk into the school. I follow to the signs to the cafeteria and briefly crave the offerings from the vending machine.

I sign in- showing off my voter registration card- and tussle with the volunteers a bit over whether I can take pictures inside or not.

Since I had my ballot, I voted, put my ballot in the cool machine-y thing, and got my I Voted sticker. I noticed one of the little freshman Scholars I had worried about was sitting at a table filling out some stuff. I went -whew- that she got there safely.

I feel patriotic and -sexy-.

After waiting around and talking to the main volunteer lady a little longer, she determined that I could take pictures of empty booths and non-filled out ballots, but I had to ask permission to take photos of any actual voter.

I commenced, and avoided taking pictures of people.

A few nice volunteers handing out ballots told me straight out I could take their pic.

After walking out the door of the cafeteria, I see the other little freshman Scholar and stop to talk. Apparently freshman Scholar one had been in the cafeteria quite a while. When she comes out and talks to us, she's angry- saying she could only provisionally vote because of a mess-up with her voter registration. I interviewed her and later wrote a brief story on it for Youthvoteblog.com

Here it is-

1:26 p.m. | Fairfax, Va.
Some George Mason students who registered on campus forced to vote provisionally

Some students who registered on campus at George Mason University were not allowed to cast a vote today.

Freshman Katie Bredholt, 18, said she registered to vote on campus with a group of Obama supporters in early September. She was only allowed to vote provisionally today.

Bredholt, whose permanent address is in Texas, said after not receiving her voter registration card in the mail, she called the Virginia registrar.

"The registrar said, 'You're in the system- don't worry about it-just bring your ID,'" Bredholt, a freshman, said.

At Woodson High School, the polling site for students registered at Mason, Bredholt waited and filled out forms. She said an official had a list of at least 15 other people that were able only to vote provisionally, and almost everyone on the list was registered at Mason.

"I feel like now my voice might not be counted and Virginia is a swing state," Bredholt said. "My vote should count because I was registered."

Bredholt's vote now will only be counted if an Electoral Board meeting tomorrow determines that she is qualified to vote. Though Bredholt has the option of appearing in person to plead her case, she said she will not be able to attend because of her classes at Mason.

"I feel like if it happened to a lot of Mason students, they'll recount it," Bredholt said. "Everybody has the same story."

I wait next to a dumpster with the two Scholar freshmen and chat with an SG representative. We get on the next Voters Van. The girl next to me is eating melon- I smell it and listen to her mouthy chewing and moist breathing as we drive up and down hills back to campus.

Twelve Fifty p.m.:

Back at campus, I chat with the Voters Van tent people a little and hike up the hill to the Johnson Center. The trees have yellow leaves- they're gorgeous.

While going to grab some food, I notice a little argument next to the College Republicans' kiosk. A few of the members seem to be talking intently to other students- it is unclear if they are Democrats or not. The independent filmmaker from earlier is intently videoing the moment, leaning his top microphone in close to catch every word.

Someone from the Obama kiosk asks me if I've voted. I point to my boob and realize that my sticker is a bit higher. "Yes, I have my sticker."

I have a headache after riding in the non-air-conditioned van. I get a Dr. Pepper and some Indian food, which I promptly abandon back in the Student Media office. On the way over, I see some students in the North Plaza holding signs up telling people to go vote.

I get to the office, and after e-mailing my boss two more stories, I feel like a rockstar.

Here's the (as yet unpublished) motor pool story. (No one seems to like it -tear- I understand though, it is a pretty weak story)

FAIRFAX, Virginia- Two organizations ran motor pools bringing student voters to polls today at George Mason University.

An Obama-affiliated volunteer group started running brightly decorated cars manned by volunteer drivers at 6 a.m. By noon, the group estimated it had brought 90 students to the polls.

“It’s a non-partisan van,” a volunteer driver said. “People have come out after voting with McCain stickers and Obama stickers.”

Mason’s Student Government also ran a motor pool starting at noon. The three Mason motor pool vans had magnets placed on the side telling students what it was. A number of students took advantage of the service, piling in to the back of cars that Student Government members drove.

“It’s a great service, especially for freshmen on campus,” SG President Zack Golden said. At Mason, freshmen with cars have to park in a lot down the road from the main university. A shuttle picks freshmen up and takes them to the lot.

“Empowering the youth to vote will be inspirational and uplifting,” Nicole Kukuruda, SG’s Secretary of University Services said.

One Forty to Three Thirty P.M.:

I chat with people in Student Media, laugh at a video made by some of the reporters, watch CNN a little (George Mason University was mentioned, in a story about voting hoaxes), and transfer the RSS feeds of all fifty states (and D.C.) into javascript for Aram. I try to help, as he's frantically trying to finish up an interactive map for Mason Votes. I listen as some of the reporters in the next cubicle listen to Wizard Rock online.

He feels like he's dying, so I go to get him a bottle of water. The machine steals my dollar. I curse and hit the machine. It sits, taunting me. I go back to Student Media and find out there's a jug of water sitting there. Sheepishly, I pour a cup of water for Aram. I also set up a cute little plate of vegetables and dip. I order him to eat.

Three Thirty p.m.:

Singing to ABBA the entire time, I drive over to the Starbucks in Fairfax to see what the line is like with their "free coffee for voting" deal. It's not too bad. It starts to rain as I walk in. I talk to a few people, make my coffee with half and half and sweet and low, and leave.

I later write this story on the experience (as yet, unpublished anywhere)

In a Starbucks close to George Mason University, the baristas were certainly feeling the patriotic spirit, as they worked to hand out free tall coffees for those who voted in today’s election.

“We’ve served way over a thousand free coffees,” one barista said, as he made a quick joke about “American” style coffee.

Though there was a line of only a few customers at 3:30 p.m., a steady stream of people asked for “the free coffee.” A barista stood idly by the espresso machine, waiting for someone to order a mixed drink.

An elderly lady customer at the Starbucks said, “I don’t feel a bit sorry for them giving out all this free coffee. I’m here every day- they’ve got me hooked. If this was cocain, I’d be lying in the street.”

The employees mentioned that they were worried about running out of cups, but had plenty of coffee left.

Four p.m.:

I park in the twenty minute parking lot next to SUB I, praying to not get a ticket. In the Student Media Office, I type up the Starbucks story. After finding out Connect2Mason won the online Pacemaker, I put down my coffee so I can leap for joy.

Wondering what I should do to fill the time, I change my profile picture on Facebook to the picture of me pointing at my "I voted" sticker. I check my e-mail and find out I didn't get a scholarship for my trip to London I had hoped for. Lame. I start writing this "vignettes" blog on Blogger, as it seems the most appetizing choice to walking somewhere else in the rain to do nothing while waiting for the results to come in. It takes a long time.

Five Oh Three p.m.:

One of the Broadside editors walks into the office singing a version of Santa Baby asking the assistant photography editor to give him a cigarette.

"Teddy baby, can you give me a cigarette, Outside, it's wet..."

He gets nothing. Grumbling, he says he's like Wayne Brady, improving that whole thing on the spot.

Aram comes in briefly from setting up the liveblog deal in the Johnson Center. He complains aloud, "There are third world countries with better Wi-Fi than the JC." I give him my car keys, telling him to take my car to go vote. I didn't get a ticket for parking in twenty minute parking over an hour. Score.

My friend Matt runs to go to work in the coffee shop downstairs. He's been lamenting what will happen if McCain wins- he says he's scared (he's hardcore Democrat). I tell him not to cry if his man doesn't win.

Five Twelve p.m.:

I finish the vignettes now, vowing to add photos and more entries later. I have a class at 7:20 (that will hopefully get out early), but nothing until then.

I am bored and hungry. There is Polynesian sauce sitting next to the keyboard. Maybe it will taste good. The Darth Vaders, skull from Prague, and red candle of Lenin's bust stare down at me from the top of the computer monitor.

Five Twenty Four p.m.:

It feels like something else should be going on. A few of the video people are in the next cubicle watching "How I met your mother." Neil Patrick Harris is the man.

Someone from Obama headquarters in Fairfax just called me to ask if I voted. They've already sent me about 10 text messages in the past few days. And like a gazillion e-mails. This is what I get for signing up for Obama's vice-presidential announcement online? I didn't even get that message!

Ticked. Angry. Spam = evil.

An octopus with a sombrero that I made out of Floam back in April sometime is still sitting in the office. Awesome.

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