Election Diary 4: The Repat branches out

Friday morning: I hop on my bike and cycle to the home of the leader of the local Democrats. I’ve volunteered to be a “poll watcher”, and she’s going to explain to me what it’s all about.

I’ll be at a polling place in a nearby Republican neighborhood on Election Day, greeting voters, asking if they’d like to see a sample Democratic ballot. I’ll also be watching to see that the Republicans don’t receive unfairly favorable treatment – being allowed to station themselves closer than 10 feet from the entrance to the polling area, for example.

It’s unlikely any Trump supporters would try to disrupt voting at this location, since most of the neighborhood is already in his camp. “Take a book to read,” advises Colleen. Most folks will vote before or after work, so I won’t have much to do in the middle of the day.

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Saturday afternoon: Instead of canvassing, this weekend, I’m filling in for my friend Linda, who has been coordinating the canvassing in a neighboring township. Linda’s territory is just to the west of where I live, slightly further from the city of Philadelphia, mostly Republican. These are suburban neighborhoods with an almost rural feel. The landscape is mostly wooded, houses are far apart.

This part of Pennsylvania was settled by Quaker farmers in the 17th century, so, while many of the housing developments are new, the main roads are old, often narrow and winding. There are no sidewalks. (Indeed, there’s nothing within walking distance.) Canvassers have to drive from house to house.

The staging area for canvassing is in a private home. Donna has turned over the lower level of her house to the Democratic campaign. She’s an avid quilter; every room is filled with handmade quilts. Upstairs, in the kitchen, she provides soup and snacks for campaign workers.

Around 6:00 pm, an African-American woman and her young daughter return from canvassing. They’re followed by a middle-aged man, then, finally, two women, one of whom I know from my non-profit work.

canvassing-packetTheir canvassing packets are just like the ones in my neighborhood, but they also carry a letter explaining that canvassing represents the legal exercise of their constitutional right to free speech.

The previous week, a local resident had called the State Police to complain about people going door to door. The police came and challenged the two older women (although they were not the ones who’d actually caused offense). Pennsylvania is considered so important that, in addition to these folks from the campaign, there are other canvassers out and about, working for various political interest groups.

campaign-lit-2No one wants to knock on doors after dark in this area, so we’re not sending anyone out for the 6:00 pm shift. I grab a cheap “flip phone” and a phone list – one hundred names and numbers throughout Pennsylvania, mostly young people in their twenties. I dial one number after another. Not many people answer the phone on a Saturday evening, but one guy is friendly: “I don’t actually live in Pennsylvania any more. I moved out to Oregon when I graduated from Penn State, and now I’m doing exactly what you’re doing out here!”

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