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Making history – Election coverage in Colorado

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Early morning voters beat the lines

DENVER – For a city in a battleground state, it looks tranquil just before 7 a.m. when the polls are opening here and it’s just becoming daylight with traffic picking up along the interstate.

It’s chilly-mid-40s, slated to move into the mid-60s, with the possibility of the first snow, albeit light, by tonight.

At Denver Indian Center polling place #221-222-227-234 on the edge of the downtown area, 20-plus voting booths are set up in the gym where powwows generally are held and instead of an announcers’ stand, tables are set up to verify voter registration.

Turnout at this point is about average, said Gordon, supervisor of the polling station for the Denver election commission. He’s polite, but warns that most non-voting activity has to take place 100 feet from the voting area. He’s also rather harried.

Photo by Carol Berry
A voter heads in to cast her vote early before the lines start to form in Denver.

Some 25 people are already lined up to vote and just before the line goes in one Native man, said over his shoulder that “jobs” are the important issue this time around. An EMT, non-Native, mentioned a broad variant of that – the economy. The 29-year-old, who didn’t want her name used, said one of the amendments on the Colorado ballet dealing with birth control was also important to her.

Nearly a half-century ago, more Natives lived near the Indian Center, according to some long-time residents. Now, a recent service agency survey shows, American Indians, some 25,000 strong in the metro area, are scattered throughout the city.

This neighborhood has a number of Latino residents, one of whom, a young educator, said funding for schools is a very important issue this year.

“I’m glad the line is not really long,” said his mother standing next to him. “I don’t know if I’d be quite as happy at 10 this morning.”

It’s estimated that up to one-half of Denver-area voters have already cast their ballots by mail or in early voting. Hard to say how hectic it will become later, with radio stations urging those of both parties to get in line because the outcome is uncertain.

Voters waiting nearly two hours to vote

DENVER — In a suburb west of the main downtown area, there was more traffic at mid-morning than there was when polls opened at Denver Indian Center. Drivers were honking their horns impatiently, people were waving their candidates’ signs on corners, and, frankly, it seemed to be getting chillier rather than warmer. It’s overcast.

At a library polling site, some 75 people were in a line that snaked around the lobby behind a sign warning that no political activity can take place within 100 feet. Parka-clad voters were standing quietly, chatting occasionally in undertones, reading, or shifting from foot to foot. No real impatience, but one woman remarked that from her position in mid-line it may be another hour. She’d already been there 45 minutes or so.

The routine of standing in line is broken for a moment as a woman with a lapel pin reading “Vote 2008” and carrying a large bag went from person to person offering bottled water. She said her daughter in California sent an absentee ballot that arrived yesterday and it would have to be dropped off at one of the designated sites.

Outside, a 26-year-old woman recently moved here from California said, “Absolutely – the presidency” is the most important issue today. She voted for Barack Obama, and feels his chances are good. Other issues? “The war in sort of a choosing sides kind of thing – the economy, the person doesn’t have so much power there.” She said she was a little disappointed at the length of the line and the way it moved slowly. She, like most others, was reluctant to give her name – valuing privacy.

But Austin Krokos is happy to identify himself and his 15-month-old son, Asher, who was in a carrier on his back. Both were dressed for cold weather in parkas. Austin carried a green and white sign about an anti-abortion (“pro-choice,” he cautions) amendment on the ballot. He will be there about two hours – the limits of Asher’s tolerance – and may return later.

A 27-year-old voter who said he is in marketing gives up on the long line and left to drop off his mail-in ballot. I decided to forego the voting lines and talk to workers at one or two candidate headquarters.

Canvassing the neighborhoods

DENVER—At one campaign headquarters volunteers wearing yellow jackets that read “Coordinator” bustle about, up and down stairs in a building in downtown Denver. Another headquarters is more sedate – suburban, with a covered entrance, and inside a little more subdued, at least at one late-morning moment in time today.

The contrast seems almost too convenient a mirror of the common wisdom about the two parties. Volunteers at the Barack Obama headquarters are young, though not exclusively so, and at the John McCain, older, though not exclusively so. A spokesman for the latter says older people are working the phone banks while younger volunteers canvass the neighborhood in the nice weather—and the weather has warmed up considerably. Mostly blue skies, not gray, and temperatures in the mid-60s. Voting lines, briefly shorter after 9 a.m., are starting to get longer again because of workers casting ballots over the lunch hour.

Clusters of canvassers going door-to-door are now checking to be sure their supporters are going to vote. Ann King, an Obama coordinator, said, “We’re making information available about how and where to vote, that kind of thing – before, we were identifying who our supporters were.”

At the McCain headquarters I visited, no one can speak to the press directly, but a spokesman returned phone calls and said hundreds of canvassers statewide are getting out the vote today.

Problems? Well, there were the robo-calls that one party attributes to the other side, while the other side – which acknowledged contracting out robo-calls – said the party knew nothing of those particular ones and would repudiate them if it did. The calls? Reportedly to Latino neighborhoods informing residents that Wednesday, not today, is voting day. The good news is that no one sees a problem with provisional ballots, a hurdle in the past. Maybe the vote count will actually go smoothly!

Polls calm during work hours

DENVER - It’s now officially afternoon and things have changed — much warmer, more subdued crowds. Traffic is less hectic, the sign-carriers seem to have left the main thoroughfares, and, at least in two core urban polling places, the lines waiting to vote are nil.

A construction worker near one of the polling sites says he just heard on TV that 64 percent of Denver voters have already cast their ballots, either by mail, early voting or shortly after polls opened today. He voted by mail some time ago and so did his family, because “this election is important.”

Brian Farrington, a burly man from Fort Worth, Texas, came to Denver as a volunteer poll watcher “to keep an eye on things” in Colorado, which he terms a battleground state, and found voter lines dwindling as the day went on. He relaxes in the sunshine, eating an apple, with autumn leaves falling to the ground around him. He says he isn’t photogenic, waving a camera away. His fellow volunteer agrees not much is happening.

Things should be different mid-town where condos, apartments, public buildings and restaurants rub shoulders. But they’re not. It is dead quiet at a Denver Public Schools administration building polling place and has been since about 7:30 a.m., according to one of the volunteers.

Sharon Tompkins, who is in private duty nursing, voted at that site and says the issues in this election are “more important than they ever have been.” She is black, an Obama supporter, and says the core need is “getting everything back on track, because it’s all messed up.” A customer service worker, also black and originally from San Francisco, says the “economy is huge” as an issue and he says there is a new enthusiasm from “an influx of young voters.”

There may be another flurry of voting after people leave work today — or not. Most may have already made it to the polls or voted early, and they’ll be getting ready to celebrate, even if prematurely. Guarantee - no one plans to lose.

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Tribal nations urge members to vote

DENVER—Colorado’s two tribal nations, the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian Tribe, apparently are abuzz with voting activity today as volunteers spread out across the reservations in southwestern part of the state to get out the vote.

Voting activity in Denver is a little lower-key than expected, apparently because of heavy early and mail voting, but elsewhere it may be more intense than usual. Colder weather may be moving into the Ute tribal areas, but bets are that it won’t dampen voter enthusiasm.

Ernest House, executive secretary of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, says this afternoon that there was a big turnout earlier for a Get Out the Vote rally at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. where a number of Native students attend under various programs. “And the tribes are saying, whatever you’re doing, be sure and get out and vote.”

“When we go onto reservations, we make sure that we take guidance and direction from tribal members to be respectful,” he explains. This year, as a measure of the intensity of activity, tribes have issued permit for volunteers to go door-to-door, have offered transportation to polling places, and have given employees time off to vote.

High on the campaign wish-list have been one-on-one, government-to-government relations; cabinet-level or other significant recognition; and annual summits with tribal leaders nationwide, all expected to be underscored by high Native voter turnout.

The trees outside Colorado’s gold-domed capitol are turning red and orange and the hum of homeward (or poll-destined) traffic is just beginning this late afternoon. There are issues besides voting: passage of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, more money for IHS, and dollars for greater safety and law enforcement in Indian country. In Denver alone, urban Indian health care has been zeroed out in several administration budgets.

“We’ve never had direct contact with the White House,” he says. “But we need that—the one-on-one contact.”

The capitol is quiet and people are leaving. It’s probably time to check out Colorado’s Indian senator who is running for re-election and a Native aspirant to the state House of Representatives before the polls close.

Native candidates await outcome

DENVER—The snow showers haven’t arrived and they almost certainly won’t reach here by the time the polls close in about two hours, but rush hour traffic, distance, and time constraints will probably rule out face-to-face interviews with two Native politicos in the far southwest Denver suburbs.

So I’m talking to Sen. Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora) by phone, and I’ll call Karen Wilde, a candidate for the state House of Representatives. a little later — she will be getting even more distant as she travels this evening in her constituency in Elbert County, part of which is a Denver exurb and part a sparsely populated area of scenic high prairie.. Some of this formerly red area is turning blue, she asserts, echoing various statewide trend-trackers whose predictions may or may not withstand the final count.

Williams has been on a trouble-shooting team to root out any voting irregularities in Arapaho County but outside her Senate district. No trouble at this point, she says, sounding the by-now-familiar refrain, “Everyone’s doing a great job, but it’s a little slow.” It actually seems that everyone in Colorado has already voted and, while that’s an exaggeration, it is possible - according to the omnipresent TV - that state returns will come in early.

Williams, a registered Comanche, is term-limited and can only serve four more years, if elected tonight. She mentors Wilde, and was a state representative for eight years from a House district adjacent to the one Wilde seeks. She and Wilde, Muscogee Creek/Pawnee, are apparently the sole Natives in or aspiring to the state legislature this year. Not surprisingly, they’ve championed Indian causes.

Wilde, though optimistic about her chances today, acknowledges being in a little tougher race as a Democrat in a district that is about half Republican and half Democrat/Independent. As she talks, phones are ringing all around her and people are waiting to see her. She and Williams are busy on this highly stressful day.

It’s getting dark now, though the predicted chill is holding off. They (and by now, probably everyone else) look forward to the warmth of post-poll parties that will be lighting up Denver at scores of hotels, motels, country-and-western venues, restaurants and upscale clubs in LoDo.

Polls close in Colorado, no clear winner

DENVER — Still no snow. It’s been chilly, warm, cool, sunny, cloudy — in short, a fairly typical late fall Colorado day. The election? A little unsettled, as well.

Shortly after the polls close, there’s no clear-cut Denver area outcome — yet. Colorado, a battleground state, looks to have turned blue, at least by early accounts. There’s a kind of quiet jubilation at one suburban library polling site and some subdued yells and cheers on the street. A few cars honking about something.

Later, of course, will be a different story, as the many, many post-poll victory parties around town lurch from jubilation to the depths, or from the abyss to the heights. Or just sort of flat-line in stunned disbelief. The numbers are still to come.

Back where my day began, at the Denver Indian Center polling place, there are still cars in the parking lot. A couple of pizza boxes, with pizza, are lying in the parking area beside a main door. Inside, the polling station supervisor looks much as he did at 7 a.m. — brisk, efficient, white shirt immaculate. Just a little harried. It’s been very busy, he says, telling me that non-voting activity must take place 100 feet from voting. It’s after 7 p.m., and voting has ceased, but the machines are still being packed up.

In the hall, I encounter Mark Barkhausen, DIC youth coordinator, who says that in mid-afternoon the gym, where voting took place, was full, and the parking lot was packed. Drum practice occupies one of the rooms; otherwise, except for the gym, the place is dark.

At a suburban library not far away, Jyoti DeVernie, a volunteer polling place worker, said votes would have to be tallied from hundreds of sites around the county and then totaled with mail-in and early vote counts that have substantially been completed. She insists that Colorado has gone for Obama — her candidate — and that he’s a shoo-in nationally.

Of course, it’s not over until it’s over, especially on an unsettled fall day.

Supporters celebrate in Colorado

DENVER—The city hasn’t erupted in fireworks yet, but Colorado turned blue just before John McCain’s concession speech less than an hour ago. It has only been a short time since Barack Obama drew more than 100,000 supporters to downtown Civic Center Park and mere months since 70,000-plus filled a stadium here to witness his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

“What a difference,” a friend from Oklahoma muses tonight. “Who would have thought four years ago that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could ever be president?” He speaks above a shouting, whooping, laughing crowd chanting O-ba-ma over and over at a victory party attended by hundreds at a large motel in western metro Denver.

“In my lifetime, at my age, I never thought I’d see a black man be president,” says Herchell Campbell, 77, of suburban Denver. Campbell himself is black. “I just thank God for the American people who realized it doesn’t matter, if he can do the job.”

Nicholas Landucci, another suburbanite, says he feels the tipping point was peoples’ willingness to see and repudiate “subversion and deceit as campaign strategies” and to end practices through which “you can steal campaigns by using fear tactics.” Obama transcended those tactics and is a true leader, he says.

Karen Wilde, the Pawnee/Muscogee Creek aspiring to the Colorado legislature, is running neck-and-neck with her Republican rival at this hour and returns may not be final until morning. Sen. Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), Comanche, her mentor and friend, won reelection handily.

It’s still quiet outside and it doesn’t look like snow anymore. Whether those predicted flurries arrive or not, I hope every party-goer finds a safe way home tonight.