Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Voting on Super Tuesday 2008

I was able to vote on Super Tuesday!

Democrats Abroad Germany’s Berlin Chapter held a special meeting in which American Democrats were allowed to vote in the primary. Somehow (and trust me, I don’t know how) there are some delegates who represent voters abroad and they actually cast votes on the caucus floor for us!

Truthfully I doubt that my vote will be counted because my last place of residence (thus my permanent voting registration location) is Kansas. Unfortunately Kansas doesn’t participate in the primary system. I sincerely believe that states like Kansas need to rethink their reliance on outmoded, exclusionary caucus systems. Primary elections — particularly with advance voting — are easier, less confusing and encourage greater public participation. In order to vote in a primary in Kansas you have to make your way to one special location and wait in line to be included in the caucus vote. Evidently primaries are too expensive and the Kansas lawmakers rejected a 2008 presidential primary, citing the estimated cost of $1.2 million.

All Berlin Americans were invited to come to the upstairs section of Max and Moritz in Kreuzberg to cast their vote. I’d never been to this very famous restaurant, so I was looking forward to the experience. Upon arrival I realized that the place was quite crowded with three types of people – there were lots of Americans milling about, waiting for the upstairs doors to open – and sitting at the tables trying to eat and drink their beers in peace were lots of locals with confused faces. I’m sure they were wondering why their nice, quiet restaurant had been taken over by these noisy Americans. The third type of person hanging about Max and Moritz was reporters… LOTS of reporters, cameras, notepads, bright lights, REPORTERS ALL OVER THE PLACE!!

The gossip I heard immediately upon entering was that they were not yet ready for us upstairs, so I scanned the room and found a huge stammtisch-type table (one where groups often congregate) and joined the group of slightly bewildered American faces. As I sat down there were two men in the process of an interview. A reporter was using a tape machine and asking questions of a man who I would characterize as being a “special” guy. He was one of those older men filled with opinions and more than happy to share them with anyone willing to listen… and some who aren’t so willing. He was dressed in blue jeans altered in such a way as to show off his white sport socks inside of sport shoes. On top of this he was wearing a multi-colored Polo-style shirt which was two sizes too big for his portly frame. Crowning all of this was a full head of white hair and a thick, unmanaged white beard…. YES, this guy could be recognized as an American at 500 yards away.

I listened to the interview for about ten minutes and learned lots about the situation. Reporter Man was trying to get away, but Special Dude just kept talking… he really didn’t need to be interviewed, he could just talk endlessly. Special Dude was waxing poetic about Hillary Clinton and the Bill Clinton administration of the past. At one point Special Dude had to take a breath and reporter man took this opportunity to bring me into the conversation. He asked me if I had seen the last Obama/Clinton debate, and if so what did I think. Special Dude knew that he had been cut off, but took it well and listened attentively to what I said while formulating his next opinion which would allow him to break back into reporter man’s world. What Special Dude didn’t know was that reporter man was one step ahead of him and could wind the conversation better than Special Dude ever dreamed. As Special Dude opened his mouth to speak, Reporter Man told me how interesting my opinion was and then asked if he could interview me. Special Dude exhaled visibly and audibly, which Reporter Man and myself managed to ignore as we went on.

Eventually Special Dude got up to go pay for his beer, leaving in a bit of a huff I would say. Reporter Man and I continued for about another five minutes and I eventually found out he works for ARD (a TV station here in Berlin). I must not have been too interesting because he didn’t get his cameraman to come take any video. Cameraman was taking shots of a beer glass and what looked like some Wurst covered in Sauerkraut.

As Reporter Man and I were winding up the doors to the upstairs opened up allowing the people to get inside, so I opted to join the line at that time. While waiting on the stairs I was caught by a cameraman and reporter from N24 (another local TV station, one of about five in the bar at that time). This reporter guy asked me how long I’d been in Berlin to which I answered three years. He asked in German if we could proceed with an interview auf Deutsch, and I suggested it would be better with English. Then he asked me if I had ever voted through the Democrats Abroad group before to which I answered no, the next question was how I felt about the Democratic race, and then did I feel it would be close, and who I thought would win the Presidency. When I replied that I figured John McCain would win he seemed surprised and asked me why I would feel this way. I tried to succinctly describe that the democrats are splitting right down the middle between two candidates and that my opinion is that unless one of them becomes the front runner soon, then the people who have spent so much time disliking one or the other of them would have a hard time voting for the eventual winner if their chosen person didn’t win the party’s nomination. That perhaps they would even end up voting for McCain out of this dislike. I don’t know if I got that across because I watched the guy’s eyes glaze over… tee hee hee.

After waiting in line another twenty minutes and being jostled about, having to use my elbows to hold my position, and generally observing that these Americans who would behave completely differently back home had been in Berlin too long, I finally got to the desk to begin the voting process. Just as in America, the volunteers working the tables had an average age of 65 and were generally as slow as possible about going through the motions required. I had to show my passport and fill out a registration card to their group, yes; I guess I am now a member. Then I had to fill out the voting ballot giving my full name, current address and my “voting address” which is my last address in America. After three years I’m happy that I still manage to keep that long gone address in my head. Maybe I’m not as senile as I occasionally think.

When it came time to put my ballot in the box there were five cameras ready to record the event. I felt like one of those really important people you see as they vote… they stand over the box holding their ballot slightly into the slot and look up for an interminable amount of time as each reporter gets their chance at a photo op. I stopped and let them know that I would hold it for a while, so about two more cameras came over to record the event for posterity. How goofy.

As I walked away I was accosted by two other reporters, one German, one American. The American won out because she had a nicer way of requesting the interview. She was quite sweet and asked if there was any way I would talk with her for a few moments. I found out that she was from Reuters and agreed to the interview. With her I got into the fact that if I were living in Kansas right now I would not normally be able to vote in the primary, but that being here gave me the opportunity. We talked about who I voted for, and why I wanted that person to win. Then she asked why I was in Germany and she got the short version of that whole story after which she said she understood why I am voting Democrat.

Walking away I thought about how different that experience was to the way I'm accustomed to voting... these days I do it by mail, and when I was living in the States I would always stand in line at a church close to my house. Oh my how things have changed. All in all I don't think that I will do that again, by mail is much more simple!

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