'All politics is local.'
Thomas "Tip" O'Neill Jr. Former Congressman, a Democrat from Massachusetts
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, incompetence should be a relic of the past. And yet, the gubernatorial election witnessed Mayberry at its finest --- where it was business as usual.
How long has our system been broken? You roll the dice, for I don't gamble on political campaigns. How do I know we need fixing? Consider this set of facts taken directly from the casino floor.
November 2, 2021 - The Skirmish at Country Green
The Scene: One of 31 Albemarle County Polling Places
The Influencers: Pit Boss, The General, The King & I
It was the highest voter turnout in 30 years. The General (registrar of Albemarle elections) reported that nine precincts (25%) were forced to provide emergency (paper) ballots. Therefore, now be it declared: The General will dispatch the emergency relief by authority of sheriff's deputies to the rescue! I take the pulse on the street while glad-handing prospective voters, watching the uneasiness unfold. We persevere until 6:49 P.M. when the last person is allowed into the building. As the late voters linger, we hear first hand they are NOT happy with the makeshift ballots.
It's nearly dark when our Republican Party Chair, the Honorable King George arrives at our precinct. I sense confusion, watching his royal highness in the chariot parked at the curb. He stays on the phone, an imminent crisis getting his undivided attention. A sole Republican volunteer announces that she is "done," cashing in her chips when the polls close. Her vacancy means no one from King George's courtier is present to observe the vote counting. There is a flurry of text messages to the volunteers, an urgent call for fairness, liberty is our aim.
I am tired, I'm done, too, and so I bid my farewells. But another volunteer steps in before I can escape into my getaway car. Will you help? Without a Republican during the counting, we have no witness...can you stay until all votes are counted?
We are told to stay calm, and not to overreact: your local government has got this...Voters who use an emergency (paper) ballot are assured their voice will count with as much integrity as the machine ballots. Yah, right...
As an unarmed civilian called upon to defend,
my only advantage is being the eldest person in the room.
Quickly, I ready for battle. I am woefully outnumbered in a sea of seasoned election workers. Everyone is barking out the rules for engagement as I surrender a signed, two-page form in exchange for the privilege of being locked into a church basement. With an intuitive "take no prisoners" resolve, I am permitted one phone call: to my husband, who expected me home for dinner. But fair is fair, Article 1, Section 4, and especially because we are more aware of the propensity for cheating. Head held high, our mission is clear because the enemy did not expect any last-minute eyewitnesses.
The spotlight shifts back to a sleep-deprived election official, Pit Boss who is getting punchy. Neither had Pit Boss' lack of objectivity gone unnoticed earlier in the day. When I was outside the church, we had engaged voters on the sidewalk, well outside the 40' distance rule. Apparently, 'several complaints' made their way into the Pit Boss who threw the first punch---a nasty exchange with one candidate who was not a D. He fired back, denying the outrageous claim until Pit Boss tucked tail between her legs with no reasonable attempt to discover the truth.
There should also be a law to protect against rudeness.
Pit Boss assumes a stern, superior stance until it is apparent I am not retreating. Her strategy shifts, ignoring me while trying to make sense of reconciling hundreds of paper ballots. My secret weapon is the scepter of anonymity. I am no party insider, this is my first political rodeo, and they do not trust me. Like being interrogated as a spy, my armor is rooted in an above-average understanding of the Constitution and the English language. I watch, I listen and wait for more direction. We can and I will survive this dumbed-down delivery of the democratic process.
Chagrined, we get down to the business at hand: An inconvenient truth about ''counting all the votes'' has come home to roost, but who is ultimately in charge? Pit Boss is on the phone again, fielding bureaucratic instructions from The General. Pit Boss tells him she's got only one Republican, an affiliation I denounced in 2012---still scarred from the McCain/Romney ripple effect. Why would she assume that? Was it simply my red coat?
Pit Boss does as she is told: The General needs two poll workers at a table, one D and one R to tally the paper ballots. The room grows quiet because there is no Republican present. As an observer, it is assumed that I might fill the bill for this appointed hour. Would I be willing to switch, you know, become Independent? After more doublespeak, three of us volunteer as the token 'neutral watchdogs.' It's a thankless job, but someone's got to do it. One (party unknown) poll watcher has sole custody of the ballots electronically counted in the voting machine - and with frequent jamming. I have no confidence in the entire setup. Meanwhile, my other critical eye focuses on the Ds hunkered down in the corner, whispering hushed tones.
I recognize an opportunity and play nice with small talk. An animated D tells me she works for the lawyers who ''help" the local Democrat party. We always treat our poll workers with free pizza. Courtesy of the firm. Help yourself, indeed.
Ultimately, who is in charge of this high-stakes crapshoot? I eavesdrop, Pit Boss talks with The General, both seem baffled by this need for procedure. Bless her heart. It is painful to witness the utter unpreparedness of Albemarle County. Yet, no one in the room questions why Headquarters did not sufficiently prepare. It may reflect the county's religious fervor to save trees by hoarding a few reams of copy paper. It could also be apathy...worse yet is the assumption they will continue to win with a reliably democratic royal flush of the status quo.
Another question crashes into the left side of my brain: Who is the decision-maker? Two male millennials, one D, another Independent, volunteer to go first. They know how to count by 5s, and they commence with what looks like a tick-tack-toe game.
And then, getting cranking like all old Republicans, I call for a time-out.
Not so fast! At the neighbors' middle-aged table, their definition of tallying is quite different and misunderstood by our tireless Pit Boss. As the half-assed protocol for vote counting ensues, Pit Boss admits no fault, but her confidence is waning.
I tell my peers there is no consistency in how the emergency ballots are being tallied. I rove from table to table and can feel the ire stabbing at my back. The emergency ballots included several hundred 'write-in' votes, and there is more confab over what will be an acceptable spelling of the candidate's name--per Headquarters' orders! I cite the breakthrough at the young mens' table, where they are already on round #2 of a recount. Shouldn't we all get on the same page? Pit Boss takes another slice of pizza, stalling the hand count for at least ten more minutes while chewing on the merits of my objection. In her defense, she calls Headquarters again to confer.
It is all too little, too late. I see the paperwork, or lack thereof; the sloppy record-keeping, and the illegible chicken-scratch tallies. In our psudo-technological age, it is unacceptable for human error to collide with the basic rights of the citizens it is intended to protect. If there should be a recall of the emergency ballots, I suspect nothing would come of it because there is no "highest and best use" of the emergency ballots.
I do not portend to say there was cheating. But gollee! It was Mayberry at its sloppiest--- a blatant disregard for perfection and protection.
To say the least, in-person voting surpassed the local bureaucrat's expectations, with 62%, or about 1,900 more voters than the last governor's election. When the truth is told, after The General decides where to store the evidence of emergency ballots, Albemarle County will meet the press. The General will declare 2021's race the most popular since George Allen was elected as our governor. The silver lining is a vacancy at Headquarters and who is best equipped to assume responsibility for fair elections.
Going forward, and whatever they want to be called --- Neocons, RINOs --- the grand old party is not sufficiently organized to compete, let alone defend our republic at the ballot box. When we win, it's manna from heaven. When we lose, why are we surprised? Integrity vanishes without uniform standards for impartiality. There is always room for hope and prayer inside our big tent. But gone are the days of all's fair in love and war. The bias of November 2 is a chilling example of what happens when the GOP lets down its precious guard.
As the dark money from an ever more sinister web infiltrates our localities, we can expect more skirmishes like the one I experienced. Citizens, voters, taxpayers, future generations deserve better assurances. Meanwhile, the Democrats must reckon with the reality that this Red State has awakened from its hibernation---with no appetite for any more free pizza.
Are you concerned about the direction of Albemarle County government?
County-wide, the Democrats have outnumbered conservative poll watchers by about 70%. Some precincts have no Rs or Independents on-site. Becoming a 2022 poll watcher requires a brief training session and two long days at the polls. And we need equal representation at every precinct.
Poll workers are paid $165 for the day-long participation. Their duty begins at 5:00 A.M. and can last until 9:00 P.M. or later.
Poll watchers must stay at the site until the ballots have been tallied in the voting machines, and/or hand-ballots are also counted. Either accounting method is called into the General Registrar's office before poll watchers are dismissed.
There are two elections in 2022: The June 18th Primary and the Congressional (November 8) race for the Fifth District seat currently held by Republican Bob Good.
The 45-days of "early voting" will continue in our local jurisdiction. In my opinion, early voting accelerates the risk of fraud, but moreso, it's a lame excuse for civic responsibility. To consider early voting as an extension of "voting in absentia" is over-reach. This custom could be undone, but only if we reclaim our right to local representation.
Steve Harvey is another excellent example of a rising star seeking a seat on our local Board of Supervisors. But he cannot win without unprecedented county-wide support.
I'll credit the Democrats with one thing: They all agree that voting is the last outpost defending our once-great republic. In 2020 we watched it crumble unto corruption as the powerful elites unleashed legions of lawyers to influence the outcomes of local and state races. Republicans naively believe 'may the best candidate win.'
Would you render "eyes & ears" to ensure our next elections have integrity? Please join me in June---because all politics start locally.
Download and print an election official application, fill it out and return it to the Elections Manager by one of the means:
Scan and send to email@example.com
Fax to 434-972-4178
Election Manager 435 Merchant Walk Square, Suite 300 PMB 160 Charlottesville VA 22902
Questions? Contact Anne Schermerhorn, Assistant Elections Manager at 434-282-4737.
Disclaimer: This post is not endorsed or paid for by any political candidate or party and is written in the general interest of Albemarle County residents.