cross-posted to goodCRIMETHINK

We’ve been fortunate to have some folks in South Carolina willing to share their experiences during the primary week. Below we have another dispatch. This one is from Hugh, and he offers some details and insights into what it’s like to canvass for Obama, the importance of election clerks and more. Enjoy, and thanks to Hugh for sharing.

All went quite smoothly here in Anderson County. Over the course of the day we had a combined total of 30 phone bankers, canvassers, and poll checkers at my house: white, black, Indian-American, young (16), old (65), male, female. Our precinct went 2-1 for Obama, both against Clinton and against Edwards, matching their combined total. The clerk of elections in our precinct was an advocate for all voters, going out of his way to assist those without the straightforward credentials, guiding them with provisional ballots, changes of address forms, etc, and spending substantial time on the phone with the county office to track down where folks needed to be if they were in the wrong place.

Our election protection attorney, a law student from the University of Tennessee, supposed that about five percent (~30) of the voters might not have otherwise been counted had the clerk not been such a staunch advocate for all of them. For rural upstate South Carolina, the epicenter of neo-confederate thinking, to have such a clerk was refreshing. Of course this was not the case at all precincts in Anderson, but our election attorneys were there to fight for the voters. The law student was very moved by the day. He had only just gotten involved, and had expected to lift a finger for Obama in Tennessee, but now he will “work his ass off.”

Other than a few hours of phone calls, I spent the entire day canvassing a small “turf” of about 80 houses, repeatedly hitting doors and pestering folks until they voted. The day before these same doors had received precinct-specific door hangers reminding them to stand up and be counted. They did. This turf went 4-1 for Obama, with respect to Clinton and with respect to Edwards, thus he doubled their combined totals. I suspect that about 5 folks might not have gotten to the polls had I not pushed them more than once. This is what happened all over the state in precincts the campaign targeted for the get-out-the-vote operation. By the end of the day, our supporters started to get annoyed that we were calling them so often to confirm they’d voted. Redundancy fosters robustness though, and I think they will forgive us, especially if they catch a glimpse of Obama’s victory speech.
The entire democratic party in South Carolina is ecstatic about the grass roots network now alive in South Carolina. Many of us will be spending time in Georgia and our team will remain in place to make phone calls to folks across the country. However, I do doubt this network can fully re-emerge for the general election for anyone other than Obama. In Pickens, Oconee, and Anderson counties, these new grass roots were cultivated by a 22 year old jewish girl from Maryland named Rachel Levine, who arrived at the Greenville office in June as an unpaid volunteer. I cannot overstate the credit she is due as a local field organizer — after a month she was recognized for her efforts and started getting paid. She was tireless and it was so gratifying to see her exuberance last night. She knew the 20 pt margin was possible, and she hopes to be back here for the general election if Obama makes it through. Relative to all other counties in the entire country, these were some of the most pro-Bush counties in his 2004 re-election. Despite this, she decided that she could.

As I walked the neighborhoods I had a big roll of Obama 08 stickers, and I gave them out to a handful of young kids — ages 8, 10, 12 or so — who were outside entertaining themselves in front of their respective houses. One african-american kid was climbing a dogwood tree in his front yard — hands and feet each on a different branch. I offered him some stickers, gave him about ten, and warned him gently to not go too far out on the limbs because dogwood trees are especially gorgeous in the springtime. He knew who Obama was and as I walked on down the road he announced from the tree “My name is Barack Obama, and I approve of this message!”

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