Registering Voters in Obamaland
The staff here is busy getting our mammoth BOB Awards issue to the printer, so Preston Davis is guest-blogging again about his latest adventures:
“Let’s go try Wal-Mart, and see if they kick us out,” said my buddy Mike.
It’s not something you’d expect to hear from a guy in his mid twenties. But for an hour we had been standing outside the ABC Spirits store on Wilkinson Boulevard trying to register voters for the upcoming Democratic primary on May 6th. I had a total of five completed registration forms—one being my own. Mike, in his failure to get people to register, would say we had a total of five.
Standing just outside the entrance of an ABC store in west Charlotte on a rainy Saturday and asking the patrons whether they’re registered to vote may sound like a sketchy prospect. Let me assure you, yes, it is a bit sketchy. We knew that going in. But we weren’t prepared for some of the reactions to the simple question: “Excuse me, are you registered to vote?”
When you look official—which we did with our Obama stickers and clipboards that read “Register to Vote” on the back — you expect your encounters with people to be, well, official. I’ve since come to find that expectations should be left in the car when conducting any business outside of an ABC store.
One elderly gentleman called Mike over to his 1978 rust-covered Buick.
“Yes, Sir? Would you like to register to vote?” Mike asked.
Without missing a beat the man replied, “Oh. Nah. Nah. I can’t. Would you do an old man a favor? Buy me some E&J?”
We started the day by showing up at Obama campaign headquarters at 1 p.m. Though we were volunteering for his campaign, as far as I could tell, the work seemed nonpartisan—besides my Obama sticker. The registration was open to anyone of any political affiliation, but in predominantly black west Charlotte, I did not have one person check the box for Republican, or anyone who had much enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton—except for the one passionate women’s lib supporter.
For the most part west Charlotte is Obamaland.
At the headquarters our organizer handed us the clipboards and some brief instructions that I didn’t really pay attention to. She looked at us and then said, “hmmm, let’s get a black face to go with you two.”
Well, I was paying attention now.
I suppose when you are focused on getting a job done, little room remains for politically correct statements.
She found a smile-affixed woman named Dana.
After little success at a beauty parlor on Freedom Drive (one registrant), Mike and I made the decision to find more fertile ground. So, to the ABC store we went, where we knew all would be older than 18, and hopefully above 21.
We did receive more attention. To add to the people asking us to buy them booze, we received other inquiries, some even concerning criminal convictions and the ability of registering despite those convictions. (As a note, if you have served your time and completed parole for any felony, congratulations, you have the right to vote.)
The ABC, however, gave us a more belligerent sample of America’s voting populous than we’d bargained for. We needed something with a little more variety, something with the same swagger, but maybe with children in tow.
We needed Wal-Mart.
We had heard Wal-Mart was not letting people register voters, but we decided to test their nerve of censoring the American electorate process. We passed right by the security truck, clipboards obvious under our jackets—I felt like I was concealing a weapon…a weapon of justice.
“Hello, sir,” to the security guard. Nothing back.
And just like that we were in the clear. Wal-Mart had exactly what we knew it would: a sampling of the American middle class—the perfect place to witness firsthand some key issues of the campaign season: healthcare, poverty, immigration, and even religious debate.
The issues stared you straight in the face:
• A husband and two sons gathered around a middle-age mother, who looked way too frail for her age. They helped her from the Wal-Mart wheelchair to the car.
• Multiple Latino families that couldn’t fill out the English only form walked by quickly. Maybe because my Spanish was too poor to help, or maybe they were simply too embarrassed to try. Maybe both.
• And there were the many, many families coming out of the Wal-Mart with only a meager supply of Great Value products.
Mike approached an older woman. “Ma’am, would you like to register to vote?”
“Vote!” she snapped back. “All I need is Jesus.”
Other responses included:
• “I’ve been registered for years. People died so I could vote.”
• “I’m just too busy today.” (The man then proceeded to stand beside me doing nothing for five minutes, when I told him it would only take three to register.)
Gradually, people became more receptive. For the most part people were just thankful we weren’t trying to sell them anything. Many were already registered.
By the time we needed to leave, we had about 15 completed registration forms each, and had given away even more for people to mail in. Most of what we expected to happen happened, except for Mike’s tip for picking up liquor for an elderly man. That was just icing.