Thursday, November 4, 2004
Dustin Faulk, 25, takes a bench in the sandpit outside the Marina community center and smokes a cigarette as he waits for his girlfriend to come back out into the autumn sun. It’s 2:40 in the afternoon on Election Day 2004.
Faulk has already voted. Unlike many people his age, he takes his citizenship seriously.
“I vote every time I can,” he says. “It’s not only [civic duty], but I’m interested in public policy. I think that it’s important people pay attention to presidential politics but also county and state measures that may affect them more.”
According to early information, only 10 percent of voters aged 18 to 24 turned out in 2004, a surprising fact considering the threat of death from the hip-hop impresario, tycoon and fop, Sean P. Diddy Combs, to “Vote or Die.”
Faulk’s girlfriend, 22-year-old Janna Hameister, eventually emerges from the poll alive, having cast her votes.
“This is our best way to have a voice in what’s going on,” says Hameister, an earth sciences student at Cal State-Monterey Bay.
She and Faulk are also concerned about local politics, especially the hot button issue of Fort Ord redevelopment.
“We’re into [Marina mayoral candidate and Green Party member] Bruce Delgado for sure, because there’s so many millions of dollars in the Ord that will get distributed to people, and whomever is in charge here have a say in that,” Faulk says.
Inside the community center, it’s been going gangbusters all day long. Usually there are six voting booths. This year there are 16. When the polls opened at 7am, there was a line 20 yards long where there are usually just a few early birds, according to poll inspector Steve Shimek.
“It’s been great. Absolutely great. Big turnout. I’d say huge turnout. Enthusiastic people. A lot of first-time voters, which is good to see.”
Shimek turns to help an elderly woman with a cane.
Watching him and the other volunteers, as well as the voters themselves, are election observers from both parties. When there’s a lull in the action, poll officials let them scan the voting log. The observers also watch for Election Day skullduggery, such as “electioneering” too close to the polling place, propaganda and phantom voters.
One of the observers is Paul Bruno, the vice chair of the Monterey County Republican Party—a somewhat controversial figure this year. He’s stands off to the side of the polls, wearing a dark suit, a dark shirt and dark tie.
“Everything is running smoothly. There’s nothing weird here,” he declares. “All of us are looking to forward to when this day is done. I hope this is done in a prompt and fair manner. They last thing we need is the country torn apart. Other countries look to us as a model of democracy and if we can’t get it right, who can?”
After seeing nothing weird, Bruno and fellow Republican Ali Gomez leave Marina for the Monterey Farmers’ Market—not for the tomatoes, but the potentially distracted potential voters.
With 120 million citizens casting ballots, this year is being touted as having one of the highest turnouts ever. Voters were compelled by a mix of reasons. For some it was single issues or single candidates. Some just hate the President. Others were merely doing their duty.
A 25-year-old with a ponytail, a former auto technician who calls himself “Chief,” puts it succinctly as he walks from the poll at the Boys’ & Girls’ Club in Seaside.
“I’ve never voted in my life,” he says, “but come on man, it’s only about one word: Bush. All of my family and friends have never voted but today is the day. I didn’t like him even before Fahrenheit 9/11. That just put me over.”
Actually it’s about more than one word for Chief. He took issue with two state propositions, 68 and 70, which deal with tribal gaming.
“I’m part Indian,” he says. “They shouldn’t be on the ballot for anything except to hook them up or something.”
Ray Jacobson, a poll official inside, says the Boys’ & Girls’ Club has been slammed all day, though no one had to wait for hours as some did elsewhere in the country. He sits at a table with four full boxes of ballots at his feet and a line of voters snaking out the door in the late afternoon even before most workers get off at 5.
“We opened the door at 7am and it was standing room only,” he says.
The same was true at the American Legion Hall Post 41 on the edge of Spaghetti Hill in Monterey, where locals who have voted in the neighborhood their whole lives had to stand in line for the first time. There are 1,600 voters in the surrounding precinct and given the expectation for many absentee voters, the poll was issued 800 ballots by the county elections office. By late afternoon there were only 155 ballots left. (There were reports later in the night of some polls depleting all their ballots and scrambling to find spares. This could not be confirmed with officials by press time.)
Emerging from the veterans’ hall with his two children was Sergeant First Class Danny Stokes, of the 1st Special Forces Group. He’s got three weeks left in his Chinese studies at the Defense Language Institute but he fully expects an Iraq tour in the next year. As he talks, his two children scale a nearby slope. He did not have time to study the state propositions. He usually votes by absentee ballot.
“I’d like to see the president re-elected so obviously I voted for him. I’ve supported him from the beginning,” he says. “I know there are some things that could have been done better but I am more willing to follow his direction than the other candidate. With the situation in Iraq, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with Kerry in office, but obviously there’s no easy fix there.”
Following Stokes into the poll was Elba Bleser, a 27-year-old student. It was the first time at the polls for Bleser, a Latina born in the US.
“We’ve got to vote against Bush,” she said. “The foreign policy; all the lies to go to war.”
Judy Magadini, a teacher voting in Pacific Grove, said she wants to see some new faces on her city council, and a change in national leadership. She voted at the community center on Junipero.
“I think it’s obvious,” she said. “I want to do what I can to get Bush out.”
At the Sunset Center in Carmel, the scene was more subdued than Marina and Seaside. Voters trickled through alone and in pairs.
In the early evening, a cab pulled up and Rachel Kemper, with her hair in thick braids and a stout walking stick in her hand, emerged and made her way inside.
“It’s the issues,” she said. “It’s not just the candidates. They’re double-loopholing one that looks good [Prop. 65],” she says. “The three percent tax on all phone calls? Oh come on. Otherwise I would have stayed home in bed.”
All throughout the day, while voters piled up in Seaside and Shimek scurried from voter to voter in Marina, a 25-year-old graduate student named Casson Trenor was on a mission of his own. With a backpack, earphones and a placard that simply said, “VOTE” he had been from Monterey to Salinas to Seaside and Sand City, marching forth and getting honks from passersby. Trenor paused alongside Highway 1 by the dunes in Sand City.
“We live in a representative democracy and the only way it will work is if we represent ourselves,” he said. “My personal politics aside, this election is so important, and either way it will take this country in a different direction.”
With the sun going down, Trenor wanted to get his message out one last time. He headed to the top of the dune where people often spell out messages and where on September 11, 2001, one young woman held out an American flag that rippled in the wind at dusk. Trenor headed up there to spell out “VOTE” for everyone driving past.
When he came back down, he was done for the day.
“I’m going to find a television set, figure out what’s going on out on the East Coast, get a six pack and cross my fingers.”