City attorney Stephen Postema visited around 25 different polling places on Election Day in his capacity as election commissioner. First off, I’d like to thank Stephen for allowing me to tag along with him all day as he checked in on various polling places. One point we had addressed the previous day when discussing logistics was what kind of access I’d be afforded at the various precincts: I would at all times avail myself of exactly the privileges afforded the general public. Every polling place has a public viewing area.
From those public viewing spots there’d be no talking to people waiting in line, no photography, nothing to disrupt the ritual of democracy. (I don’t think lending my pen to Dave Boutette, who asked me for it to fill out his voter application, broke the spirit of the rules.)
Postema and I had agreed to meet at Slauson Middle School to start the day. I wasn’t sure where exactly he’d meant, and figured it would not be smart to just barge into the polls asking, “Anybody seen Stephen Postema?” At 6:58 a.m., two minutes before the polls opened, I received a text message clarifying the situation: “Postema is in here conducting the masses.”
I assumed this message came from Postema himself and wrote the original caption to the cell phone photo that way. It did puzzle me somewhat that Postema would refer to himself in the third person. In the course of the day he would not ever use anything but first-person reference. But it didn’t puzzle me enough to ask him about it. Or to verify that it was Postema’s number that I Photoshopped a black bar over.
It turns out that the message was not sent by Postema but in all likelihood by Stopped. Watched. correspondent, John Weise, who I saw standing in line when I went inside. Reached by phone, Postema confessed that he does not even know how to text-message, and added, “I do not want to learn how to text-message!”
It would take over a half hour of conducting before Postema was satisfied that the lines at Slauson had been optimized for maximum efficiency. Precinct maps needed to be hung to help voters get in the line for the correct precinct: either 5-4 or 5-5. Student volunteers needed to be emboldened to give clear directions. It was a familiar theme through the day, especially in the early morning. Details are in the same-day report, which I filed incrementally through the day by phoning in reports to my colleague, Mary Morgan, who was holding down the fort at The Chronicle’s home office.
Generally, though, I was struck by the fact that Postema didn’t just put in face time at the polling locations – he tweaked procedures and processes to help alleviate the long waits. In some cases it was a matter of moving furniture around. In others it was a case of adjusting the divisions in the alphabet corresponding to different lines.
Probably the most interesting episode I witnessed was at Pioneer High School, when Jonas Mouton, who by the way plays football for the University of Michigan, was initially turned away from the polls. Mouton made some phone calls to numbers provided by the Democratic Party voter assistance table. When Postema learned of the situation, he made some phone calls of his own. Through the various phone calls, it was determined that Mouton was in the qualified voter file and was therefore entitled to vote. I knew that one of the people Postema called was Mary Fales, a staff attorney who was holding down the fort on the third floor of the Larcom building.
After Mouton emerged from the polls having successfully voted, he called back one of the numbers and reported that his second attempt went successfully and thanked the person on the other end of the line. A bit of post-election digging turned up the name of the of that person, who had found Mouton’s name in the file: Joan Lowenstein, whose term as city council representative for Ward 2 ends this week. (Lowenstein did not seek re-election to council.)
When there weren’t any adjustments required at a particular precinct, Postema would typically focus on thanking the poll workers for the job they were doing. Many of them were high school students. “Where do you go?” he’d ask. Several attend Pioneer and many of those knew Postema’s kids Jake and Tess.
Jake and Tess were Postema’s drivers for the day. Jake took the morning shift, Tess the afternoon. That allowed Postema to keep his hands free to talk on the phone and check in at city hall or with different precincts through the day. The Postema kids seem to know Ann Arbor pretty well, but where they needed directions, Postema would sometimes interleave driving instructions with polling station instructions, “I think Kristen [Larcom] should stay there [at Clague Middle School] – turn there, no, next one – because we need an extra person there, there’s just no letup there.” Or other times he’d just point where the driver needed to go from his spot in the front passenger’s seat. (I did not call shotgun, because I figured Postema did not know me well enough to know that I would have been kidding.)
It would have been interesting to know, just out of idle curiosity, how many miles we covered through the day, but we neglected to check the odometer at the start.
Here are some photos from along the way: