"The Official Portrait of Miss InDiana"

"The Official Portrait of Miss InDiana"
aka "Miss Victory"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Carson Show

Editor's note: While this is a 5 year old story from the WSJ, it is still relevant and tells the story of an actual political machine that does not follow the rule of law.

The Carson Show
With a wink and a nudge, Democrats gin up voter turnout.
Saturday, November 9, 2002 12:01 a.m. EST

INDIANAPOLIS--It was 5:45 a.m. when I arrived, tired and a little cranky, at Rep. Julia Carson's home. It was dark and chilly, and my cotton raincoat proved entirely inadequate. But I forgot about all that as I approached the scene in front of her modest residence. Vans and SUVs were pulling in and out of the driveway, and scores of volunteers were funneling into the large garage attached to the house.

This was Election Day, and Ms. Carson, a black liberal Democrat first elected in 1996, had seen her poll advantage shrink in recent weeks. Her losing would still be an upset, but she couldn't get too confident. Pesky white suburbs had been redrawn into what is now Indiana's Seventh District, and that could dilute the influence of Ms. Carson's black base in Indianapolis proper. Moreover, her Republican opponent, a former Dan Quayle hand named Brose McVey, had turned out to be a formidable challenger. Ms. Carson was re-elected with a whopping 59% of the vote in 2000, but a less lopsided result was expected this go-round.

Hence, the congresswoman who had never lost an election was poised to pull out all the stops, and eager apparatchiks of the famed Democratic machine were arriving in predawn droves, quickly filling up her makeshift headquarters and awaiting orders. The Carson campaign had invited me to shadow some of these folks as they went about the day "getting out the vote." And we didn't waste any time.

By 6:15 a.m., I was in a minivan with three volunteers--two young ladies and a young man. One of the women was a Carson staffer; the other was on loan from House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's staff. At one point the young man ordered the vehicle stopped. He hopped out, grabbed a Carson campaign sign from the back and placed it directly in front of a McVey sign along the road, so that other passersby wouldn't see the latter. (He was on loan from Rep. Cynthia McKinney's staff.) "That's legal," said the Gephardt staffer, presumably for my benefit. "What's not legal is for us to pick up the McVey sign." Wink. Nudge. After transporting two volubly pro-Carson voters to the polls, this trio of legal sticklers dropped me back at headquarters. I didn't see much of them the rest of the day, so I've no idea what other ("legal") high jinks they were up to later on.

Next, I rode with Milton, a gregarious black gent, to pick up another Carson voter. Ms. Miner was an elderly black woman who said that she'd recently moved and hadn't brought along any ID. We went to a local school and accompanied her inside. The voting inspector, hired by Republicans, couldn't find her name in the registry and told her she'd have to fill out some paperwork before she'd be permitted to vote.

Milton became indignant. He told Ms. Miner to "come on and vote, and we'll worry about forms later." The distaff inspector, the only white person I saw, wasn't about to get in Milton's way as he escorted his charge to the booth. Afterward, while she was filling out the paperwork, I introduced myself to two poll workers and listened in as they discussed the incident.
"When our people come in," said one, referring to black voters, "I tell them, if you don't want to fill out paperwork, just use the old address." "What about the inspector?" said the other poll worker. "Don't worry about her," came the reply. "She dumb. She don't know nothin'." Wink. Nudge.

Back in the car, I asked Milton if what transpired was unusual. "Not really," he said. "I tell people they don't need ID. Don't let them hassle you." Doesn't the law require poll workers to ask for ID? I inquired. "Yeah," said Milton. "But sometimes [voters] get intimidated by that. It's a hassle, so I go in with them."

The law can be such a hassle sometimes.

Back at the garage, the weather was worrying people. It had started to rain around 8:30 and never let up. Turnout could be affected. One of the lawyers present--the local Democratic Party had dispersed around 100 for the day, three times more than usual--told me that the phone banks would have to step it up. Two gentlemen, Bill and Gil, offered to show me one of several. Along the way, Bill stressed that Ms. Carson's opponent had "underestimated her street smarts."

Giving folks rides to the polls initially struck me as an inefficient way of turning out the vote. But Bill said I was witnessing only a fraction of the operation. In total "three or four hundred" volunteers were providing transportation, and several thousand would vote as result. The Carson campaign was coordinating efforts with 30 churches and the local arm of the "unquestionably Democratic" AFL-CIO. It turned out that these phone banks were the real command central.

A wealthy local businessman and Democratic Party contributor had made available office space and phones for "Operation Big Vote," a supposedly nonpartisan 501(c)3 outfit run by an affable attorney named Aaron. There, some 30 people were busy making 10,000 to 15,000 calls, and 75 vehicles were being disbursed to accommodate the 3,000 incoming requests for rides. Others were on walkie-talkies with volunteers stationed at the polls. When word came back that turnout was low in an area, the phone-bank workers would check their voter registration lists. Callers would then go to work on that specific area.

Aaron tried to insist, straight-faced, that this wasn't a Democratic operation, but he kept having to remind people who walked through the door, including my two companions, to remove their Carson campaign hats and buttons. When I asked Aaron if there were any Republican volunteers working here, he laughed: "Our Republican is out to lunch right now. I'll let you know when he's back." Wink. Nudge.

Ms. Carson won comfortably with 53% of the vote. And like I did, a lot of Democrat activists in and around this city probably lost some sleep on Election Day. But I doubt it was over suspect tactics.

Mr. Riley is a senior editorial page writer at The Wall Street Journal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rapidly becoming New Orleans of the North.