Every Vote Counts in Ohio. Will It Be Counted?

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas February 28, 2008. (REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)I voted early on Friday at the Greene County Board of Elections. JZ drove there and read the ballot to me. We found 50 people in line ahead of us. JZ quipped, “There hasn’t been this much excitement about an election since I was on the ballot.” He was elected to the state legislature in 1976 in the wake of Watergate, and he was the last Democrat to hold the seat. I think there’s still a politician somewhere in his closet. Walking into public venues with him, I feel like I’m fending off groupies for an aging rock star. Had there been a baby in line, he would have kissed it.

One of the ladies working behind the counter stopped for a second to catch her breath and survey the scene. She put her hands on her hips and demanded, “O.K., who brought the bus?” Everyone laughed. She told me later there were long lines every day last week, 400 early voters a day.

Andy told me that French TV news last night was devoted to the election in Ohio. It featured a similar voter line in Columbus. The reporter was thrilled to find one Ohioan, a Clinton campaign worker, who could do an interview in French. I may not be as camera-ready as I used to be, but I can still craft a sound bite on the spot. I would have jumped in shamelessly with “Barack Obama – o-la-LA!”

It’s hard to explain to some people in Canada and France how Ohio truly is a political battleground. Sweeping generalizations that begin with “America this” or “Ohio that” just don’t hold water here. People are bitterly divided. But give us advice from beyond state lines, as the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper misguidedly tried to do in 2004, and we’ll circle the wagons.

I worry that residual bitterness after the Ohio primary will split my side even further. I try to balance the memory of Chicago in 1968 with Will Rogers’ old saw. “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

When I looked around at my neighbors in the early voter line, I saw a lunchtime slice of the Greene County mystique: hog farmers and soccer moms, small business owners, second-shift workers, and not a few stubborn elders pushing walkers. Everyone was patient, upbeat, even buoyant. I want to think some common ground brought us there. After eight years of self-righteous moralizing by cynical fear-mongers, there is still hope for democracy in America.

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