Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Fiddling While Rome Burns

Well, today is the big day! It will be interesting to see of the cheater will prevail or not. At this point, the country is waiting with its collective breath held to see if we will have a republic or not – and if we can keep it, to paraphrase some famous old white guy.

Meanwhile, in my little world they local GOP is fiddling while they watch Rome burn. What follows is my sad tale of how I wasn’t really able to make a difference. It all started with an email from my district Chairman. 

Now to put that in perspective, the Virginia GOP has this confusing organization for the party. Basically you have the Chairman (or Chairwoman in this case) of the county organization. That woman is Dottie Miller. I’m not sure when she took over, but it was fairly recent. The previous chairman was Bill Card. Bill was a nice guy that everyone liked and had been in the position for years. He made of point of knowing everyone, and I’d say he could probably call every member by name. I suspect he probably retired due to health problems. Prior to my recent foray, I had never met Dottie, but I think that she is sincerely trying to do a hard job.

Below Dottie, the county is divided into ‘Magisterial Districts’. It has a grand ring to it, doesn’t it? Wikipedia says:

Magisterial districts are defined by the United States Census Bureau as a minor civil division that is a nonfunctioning subdivision used in conducting elections or recording land ownership, and are not governments

So for the Prince William county GOP, there are 7 district chairmen, each with a vice-chairmen. My district chair is Ted Kirkpatrick. The next district over chair is Billy Gallagher. I don’t know Billy, but I have interacted with Ted a few times prior to now. He struck me as a sincere guy. He has held the chair as long as I have been involved in the party. He is retired, and I think running the district ‘machine’ (such as it is), is something of a hobby for him. He is very effective in freezing out anyone he views as a threat. Do you hear the violin tuning up? 

So, as I was saying, I got an email from him that he rebroadcast to his ‘machine’ – i.e. everyone on his mailing list about training for people that wanted to be Party Observers on election day. He’s not real adept at email. Instead of using BCC to avoid flooding everyone’s email from people asking questions or commenting on his email and hitting ‘reply all’, he just sticks them all in the ‘to’ line. Of course this gives anyone a ready mailing list for additional copying and pasting every stray thought that crosses anyone’s mind. Yeah – it is a bit of a mess.

In any case, I responded to this email by replying the originator of the email he forwarded, RSVPing as it requested. Here’s what that email exchange looked like:

On Tue, Oct 18, 2016 at 2:43 PM, Mike C wrote:
I'd like to attend the poll watching and election officer training on Thursday. Please let me know if space has run out.

From: "Candace
Date: Oct 18, 2016 8:46 PM
Subject: Re: Rsvp for Thursday training
To: "Mike"
Great!  So glad you can attend.  Yes there is still room. We'll look forward to seeing you on Thursday.

So I was in! Great! I was kind of looking forward to this, since I would have a chance to see the polls from the inside and get a valuable insight as to how poll cheaters might be gaming the system. Since Ted had sent out the original message, and since I thought I would be working in one of the polls he managed support for, I emailed Ted and this exchange ensued:

From: "Mike
To: "TED"
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2016 7:11:30 AM
Subject: Re: Fwd: "IMPORTANT" Oct 20th, 7-9:00 pm Poll Watching and Election Officer Training

Sorry I haven't been as active this year.. I've been swamped at work. Despite that I RSVPed to Candace and got her confirmation. I am planning take off election day to help at the polls and I'd like to work inside as either as an observer or official? Let me know what your needs are.

From: "TED"
Date: Oct 19, 2016 8:19 AM
Subject: Re: "IMPORTANT" Oct 20th, 7-9:00 pm Poll Watching and Election Officer Training
To: " Mike"  
Where do you vote?  Depending on where that it is it might be better to work outside and talk to voters.  My precinct is well run so while I'll be going in and out I'm going to concentrate on talking to voters.

Well, that was surprise! I had been working some pretty long hours at work trying to complete a critical part of the project I was on working. So, I wrote Candace, and this exchange took place:

On Wed, Oct 19, 2016 at 11:37 AM, Mike wrote:
When I informed my district chairman (Coles District, Ted Kirkpatrick) that I was planning on going to this training and would be available to work inside the polls, he informed me the polls in our district were 'well run' and he wasn't intending on placing anyone inside the polls.

Instead he is intending on placing people outside, like he always has. I've done that before and I think it's a relatively useless gesture. In any case, I am not sure of what the point of doing this training is if the leadership isn't intending on using the people you train.

I realize there may be other district chairman who have a different philosophy. If I can be of use to them, then the training will be useful. I also am curious if the leadership is aware of what is going on at the district chairman levels. Please advise.

On Wed, Oct 19, 2016 at 11:42 AM, Candace wrote:
Please come to the training.  The decision to place people inside the polls is not only up to the District Chair.  Dottie, your Chairman will be providing letters of authorization and the campaign will be placing people inside the polls where we need them.  I am copying Donna and Dottie on this email. 

From: "Mike"
Date: Oct 19, 2016 2:36 PM
Subject: Re: REMINDER POLL WATCHER TRAINING 10/20 from 7-9
To: "Candace"
Sure.. I will be attending. I mainly didn't want to waste the seat in the class if I was not going to be able to help in a meaningful way.

So I attended the training on the 20th. It was crowded. The meeting location they had chosen was a side room to a bar in Manassas. I got there just on time, but by the time I got into the room, there was standing room only. On top of that I was pretty tired as I had already put in over 60 hours that week. I managed to stay awake and the training was helpful. The main point was to make sure the people watching the polls understood the laws governing their behavior, and the behavior of the officials running the polls.

The weeks drifted on, and I still had not had any contact from Ted, Candace, or Dottie. As I was driving back from my bike ride Saturday (November 5th), I noticed that the ‘absentee in person’ voting location at the government center was still open. Since I still believed that I might be called on to poll watch, I decided that I would go ahead and vote. It was a relatively painless process. The main thing was you had to sign a form saying why you were doing early voting. In my case, even if I wasn’t going to poll watch, I was doing OT at work and probably would not be able to vote on the 8th. I filled out the form, and voted. I also made a point to see what was going on around me. 

Sunday rolled around, and still hadn’t heard from Ted. The night of the meeting, I had briefly met with Dottie and Candace, and they had assured me that even if Ted couldn’t use me, they could place me in the Occuquan district. In retrospect, I was too late. There was no way I was going to be placed at this late date. But, hind sight is 20/20, right? I sent this:

From: "Mike"
To: "TED", "Dottie Miller", "Candace"
Sent: Sunday, November 6, 2016 9:05:33 AM
Subject: No word from Occuquan

I realize you are busy with lots of issues I just thought I'd check to see if you had gotten any word from Occuquan people as to me working as an observer?

Dottie, Candace,
I did early voting yesterday at the government center since if I am not going to be working the polls Tuesday I am working an OT schedule at work. It's too late to do anything about it now, but for next time..

I noticed there were no observers (Dem or GOP) present where by the setup should have had at least two people there - one at check-in, one in the voting room. There probably needs to be someone handling staffing there for inside and outside - the Dems had a guy outside. In general I suspect most of the voters there Saturday were Dems..

What I saw.. The officer who checked me in asked for my name and address, while the lady next to him wasn't doing that. There was a person sitting at the machine connected to the scanners.. I could not tell what they were doing.. the lady in the voting room asked me what district I was in and would have handed me any district ballot, when my district was clearly noted on my sign in sheet - place there by the sign in officer(?).. Anyway, that's what I saw.. HTH..


Probably because I had included Candace and Dottie on the email, Ted felt that he had to act. To my knowledge, he was never going to do anything with a volunteer who wanted to work inside the polls; in his district or anywhere else. This exchange happened:

On Nov 6, 2016 3:07 PM, "TED" wrote:
Mike Campbell would like to be a poll watcher and Dottie suggested Occoquan so if you think you can use him please contact him asap.
Please send Billy and myself your phone number.

From: "Mike"
To: "TED"
Cc: “Billy”
Sent: Sunday, November 6, 2016 4:28:04 PM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Poll watching volunteer for Occoquan

Ted, Billy,
Thanks for the quick response, especially as I am sure you are extremely busy right now. I can be reached at XXXX.

Please let me know as soon as possible if I am needed as I need to let my boss know soon if I will be taking the day off.. something I am glad to do if needed, but since I am working paid overtime, that represents a not insignificant loss of income and not something I will do on the off chance my contribution might be needed.

Sorry to put it in such bleak terms, but I thought I need to let you know of my limitations.

From: “Billy”
To: "Mike"
Cc: "TED"
Sent: Sunday, November 6, 2016 5:21:40 PM
Subject: Re: Poll watching volunteer for Occoquan


Thanks.  I am not using poll watchers or observers.  I have about 14 hours of 182 not covered for handing out sample ballots.  However, there is a good chance that when people see the blank spaces on the final schedule, they will volunteer to cover them.  I do not want to deprive anyone of a loss of a day's income.  I do not know the hours Mike is working, but I have  blank spot at Rockledge Elementary from 5-7, and Mohican from 1-7.  David Rogers is by himself all day at York (Ebenezer Baptist) and I'm sure would not mind being relieved early.  Again, please do not lose money.

On Nov 6, 2016 5:52 PM, "TED" wrote:

I am not using inside observers either (although my people will be going in occasional to spot check and get numbers for how many people have voted).  

While I have a few gaps also I agree with Billy--there's no need to lose income for this, although if you can work 6-10 at Hylton that would certainly help, but again, don't lose any money over it.

I send a (very) short email back to Ted, saying ‘OK, thanks’. I considered leaving things there. The way that I read the above emails is Ted and Billy had no intention of doing anything to protect the GOP votes in their districts. I had to wonder, was it just arrogance, or were the just going through the motions because they really didn’t like Trump? In the end, I guess their motivation really doesn’t matter as the end result is the same.. in at least two out of the seven districts in the 2nd or 3rd largest county in Virginia, there are no GOP observers ensuring that the votes cast are counted. After thinking it over, I thought I really should let the county chairwoman know what her chairs were up to. This is the email exchange from that:

On Sun, Nov 6, 2016 at 8:21 PM, Mike wrote:
Dottie, Candace,
I know you all are pretty busy. I respect that Billy and Ted are doing their best, and appreciate their honest assessment that my assistance is not needed. To be honest, I am a little confused by the brush off. I am not sure what I have done to be excluded, but I understand it's politics (duh). Perhaps it's for the best.  I wish you all success.

On Nov 6, 2016 9:21 PM, "Candace" wrote:
So sorry for all this confusion for you.  If you want to work as a poll watcher, you took the training and we can use you all day, 1/2 a day or whatever you can do.  I am helping the state election day operation and there are plenty of openings for poll watchers.  What precinct to you live in and tell me what hours you can work and we will get you assigned.

I still had some hope that Candace might be able to do something. It’s important to understand Candace and Dottie were (and probably are) running on fumes at this point, dragged in a dozen different directions by 100s of details, mine being a minor point. So I wrote:

From: Mike C
Date: Mon, Nov 7, 2016 at 6:33 AM
Subject: Re: Re: Fwd: Poll watching volunteer for Occoquan
To: Candace
I can do all day if needed. I vote at Marshall, but would prefer to watch at a location like Chinn or Lake Ridge which has a large Dem turn out, and potentially, uh, issue.
It's important to me that I actually do poll watching. I am not a conspiracy theory nut job. I am concerned about the reliability of the voting system and have been for several years. Back in 2013 I did a little statistical study on PW County:

Even though my interest have moved on and I never really did much post-election analysis after that, it remains an issue that still bothers me. The whole reason I went to the training was I thought this would be a chance for me to see up close how the system worked (or didn't). 

As I noted to Ted and Billy, volunteering will cost me, as I'm sure it will a lot of volunteers who work and aren't retired.. in my case about XXX-YYY. I am willing to make that sacrifice, but not to stand outside a poll or in a poll where operations have a very low probability of success, if that makes sense.

I appreciate your understanding, and I am really not trying to cause problems. After this is over, perhaps there will be some sort of retrospective where we can talk about how to improve things. I would like to be in on that. I guess I will need to get my registration up to date for that :-)

That email got forwarded I got this email trail from Dottie and Donna. I believe Donna was one of the ones teaching the poll watching class that I attended:

On Nov 7, 2016, at 9:02 AM, Donna wrote:
Hi Dottie,
Please contact the gentleman below by the name of Mike to see if he can be used in one of the more problematic precincts in PWC as a poll watcher.
From: "Dottie Miller"
Date: Nov 7, 2016 10:32 AM
Subject: Re: Poll watching volunteer for Occoquan
To: "donna "
Cc: "Tim",  "John" (trump.com address), "Ted", (me), "Candace"
Will do !

That seemed to spark another series of emails. I got an email from ‘Luisa’ with a rather odd email URL of ‘election day ops’. Here’s how that went:

On Nov 7, 2016 1:19 PM, "Luisa" wrote:
I understand you have been trained but not yet assigned.
Can you please provide you full name, cell, and city and zip so I may assign you? I cannot do so without this information.

I responded to her email with what she asked (even though I had previously done this at every meeting, and numerous other emails). I waited, and waited, but got no response. These people are extremely busy. I get that. On the other hand, as I pointed out in my emails, I was busy also. I was not going to forgo getting additional pay just because they weren’t organized enough to place me. Alternatively, I doubted they were going to try. I suspect, given the ‘mis-communications’, my name was getting forwarded to Ted, who would ignore it, having already dismissed me. At 4:30 it came time for me to leave work. If I was going to take the day off, I had to send my boss an email by the end of the day, and now it was here. I sent this to Luisa (yeah – I was getting just a little bitter at this point):

From: "Mike"
Date: Nov 7, 2016 4:38 PM
Subject: Re: Poll Watcher Assignment
To: "Luisa"

Not your fault, but I have been waiting two weeks to be assigned a polling place. I was not going to take the day off from work unless I was needed.
At this point I am past the time that I can notify my boss that I am taking the day off. That unfortunately means that I am no longer able to help out tomorrow. Yeah, I am disappointed about that, but it looks like district chairs got exactly what they wanted: one less observer at the polls.

So there you have it. To her credit, Dottie called me as I was driving home, though I never have my phone out while I am driving and it went to voice mail. She noted that she was still working on trying to place me. When I got home, I called her back and left her a message letting her know that I could not help. She called back while I making dinner and I missed her call again. I finally called her back and spoke with her explaining the ‘mis-communication’. 

She said a funny thing in that conversation that I am still mulling over. She noted that Ted was ‘protective’. Now that can be taken two ways. Either she meant that he was trying to keep anyone he viewed as a threat out of the inner circle, so to speak, or he was trying to keep ‘crazies’ like me out. Since I blogging this experience, I guess that makes me the latter. 

From a larger perspective I think there is a sickness in the PW County GOP organization. There seems to be a preference of fiefdom over substance. Sadly, I think this is representative of the GOP in general. Perhaps some of these people need to step back, take a breath, and ask themselves why are they involved in this process? If the real answer is anything but ‘to try to better my county, state, and country’, then perhaps it time for them to move on. I would suggest a gardening club.

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