Party faithful keep close eye on polls

by Jordan Green

Jay Ovittore, the president of the Guilford County Young Democrats, heaved boxes of campaign brochures promoting Democratic appellate judges into the back seat of Greensboro vice-chair Sharon Graeber’s car. Then he hopped in his own vehicle, a Volvo station wagon whose back window was plastered with candidate bumper stickers.

It was Thursday, with five days to go before Election Day. If they were still undecided, most voters would be making up their minds today, maybe tomorrow.

Before Ovittore, a housepainter by trade, had a chance to get out of the party headquarters parking lot, another volunteer strode to the driver’s side to convey a sunny assessment of Election Day prospects for the state House races.

“It looks like we can pick up a couple seats in central North Carolina,” he said.

Ovittore mentioned plans to try to get some pictures of a Republican candidate’s bumper stickers on the back of traffic signs – a practice he described as illegal – as he made the rounds of the county’s early voting sites checking for problems.

One object of his scrutiny was the electronic poll books – a central database of registered voters accessed through laptop computers at every polling site -‘ that were in a testing phase by Nebraska-based Electronic Systems & Software. Eventually, electronic poll books will replace the paper versions. Company representatives and local election officials alike have promised that that the electronic database will allow election officials to make changes with greater frequency and thus improve efficiency. For the time being, both paper and electronic versions will be used so election workers can get used to the new technology. An ES&S operative, Michael Mack, was in Greensboro for the week to monitor the new program.

One might be forgiven for wondering whether electoral anxiety on the part of Democrats was warranted. After all, John Kerry pulled a majority in Guilford County in 2004, and now two years later the pundits were predicting that public disenchantment with the Iraq war would spill over into local races and translate into a tidal wave of Democratic gains.

Staff members at the county Board of Elections were quick to note that director George Gilbert programs the electronic voting machines himself, in contrast to some other North Carolina counties that rely on contractors hired by the software makers to do it. And if anyone was worried about the party of George W. Bush stealing votes in Guilford County to maintain its grip on Congress, they might consider that Gilbert is a registered Democrat.

Leaving party headquarters on West Market Street past the new urban loop, Ovittore traced an eastward arc across the northern section of town, along Friendly Avenue then onto Wendover and out to the Ag Center on Burlington Road -‘ a journey of roughly half an hour. The floor of the passenger side was filled about three inches deep with empty yellow Burn cans. He punched on the satellite radio, set to his favored channel.

“I usually keep it on ‘Hard Attack’ because it’s the only place I can listen to Slayer,” the Young Democrats president explained.

Campaign signs for US Rep. Brad Miller and NC House Rep. Maggie Jeffus had been pulled down by vandals the week before at the Burlington Road site, but the party had seen to it that they were put back up, he reported.

“Today’s a spot-check day,” Ovittore said, after poking his head into the Ag Center. “It looks like everything’s moving smoothly.” He walked out to the roadway to check the back of a sign for an illegal campaign sticker. Nothing.

The next stop was the Craft Recreation Center on Yanceyville Street near the northern edge of town.

There was no line. Site supervisor Jimmy Maness said 150 people had voted that day, making a total of 760 there since the nine satellite voting sites opened on Oct. 28. There had been a slight hitch opening day with the laptop computers.

“My only problem is I didn’t have them,” Maness said. “They were originally set up with serial ports. We had to get them fitted with USB ports.”

The polls opened at 10 a.m. It was about 11:30 before the computers were returned with the proper ports. In the meantime the election workers at the nine satellite sites had to call down to the Old County Courthouse anytime they needed help redirecting a wayward voter to their proper polling site if their name failed to come up in the paper poll books.

“Yesterday people were e-mailing us about all kinds of problems,” Ovittore said. “I’m feeling a little more comfortable about how things are going today.”

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