The View From South Florida

Human Rights

It's election night, and I am doing a tour of the local bars in Fort Lauderdale, where I live, thinking I'll catch the late-night returns with other gay men, so that if the news isn't good, at least I won't be alone when I hear it.

But I make the rounds of several bars, and not a one has their TV screens tuned into the election results. It's still early, about 11 p.m., and as of yet, the presidential winner hasn't been declared, though things are looking brighter for Bush and gloomier for Kerry.

I ask one bar manager, a friend of mine, about tuning into the news, but he just shrugs.

We had it on earlier, he explains. But we turned it off at people's request. It was just getting too nerve wracking.

If nothing else, this election cycle has been that, all around the country.

Here in South Florida, where the last election turned into such a fiasco and made this part of the country the butt of late-night talk show jokes a la Jay Leno and David Letterman, the intensity was ever-present.

We were keenly aware that a lot of eyes would be looking to our state, not only as one of the swing states that could turn the election, but as a place where politics has turned dirty and where faith in our democratic system has faltered.

We were also keenly aware that our governor, the president's brother, had duly promised to once again deliver Florida's 27 electoral votes to make it a red state in this election, too.

To try to mitigate the mistrust, and the possibility of another stolen election, we even had this odd thing where we could vote early, before Election Day.

A lot of friends and acquaintances caught the early voting bug, and the week before Election Day, I heard stories about people waiting in long lines for up to four hours to cast an early ballot.

In my county, there were just 14 stations where voters could cast their ballots early. On Election Day, there were more than 800 polling stations.

I asked one friend, a gay man, why he waited so long just to vote early, when surely on Election Day the wait wouldn't be so painful.

I don't trust them, he said with venom in his voice, a venom I know was directed at the Republicans. I just want to make sure I get my vote in and it counts.

Other gay friends wove intricate conspiracy tales, convinced that the Republicans were out to prevent a fair election. The stories on some of the gay listservs I belong to seemed fantastically cloak and dagger, telling of how Republican Party lawyers were perched at early voting lines, surely there for some allegedly sinister purpose.

The day of the election, I almost felt as if there might be a nugget of truth to the notion that in South Florida, the Forces of Evil were trying to prevent me from voting.

Though I registered at a booth at gay pride back in June, I never got my voter registration card, so I was unsure where to go to vote.

For two days before Nov. 2, I tried to use the Web page for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections to find my polling station. The site has a page where you can put in your address and zip code, and it is supposed to help you locate your polling station.

But for two days, at all times of the day and night, when I would type in my address, I got an error message.

So on Election Day, I decided simply to call the office of the Supervisor of Elections and ask.

I dialed the number seven times, and got seven busy signals. Finally, on the eighth try, I got through.

Then I got put on hold. For 35 minutes.

As I waited, cradling the ear with my shoulder while I poured milk into my cereal, I thought about all my friends who complained that there seemed to be unnecessary hurdles in the path of voting here. At this point, I wasn't quite as dismissive of their conspiracy theories as I once might have been.

But after just a few minutes of inconvenience, a young woman on the other end of the phone told me my polling location, and I jumped in my car and drove just down the street to the Iron Worker's Local Union 272.

At the far side of the parking lot outside the somber gray building, Kerry supporters held up signs and handed out fliers. A lean man from the group, who was clearly gay, approached me with a purple slip of paper that had a preferred list of candidates printed on it. I scanned the paper, doing a mental check against my own list of candidates in both national and local elections. Not surprisingly, our lists matched up pretty well.

Once inside, it took me less than ten minutes to cast my vote. There were no lines. The ballot box was a straightforward, computerized program, not the confusing butterfly ballot from four years ago.

And there were no Republican Party lawyers circling like vultures.

As I walked out, a poll volunteer pressed an oval sticker with an American Flag onto my T-shirt that said, "I voted."

It was well into the following day before I learned that John Kerry would concede the election, and we would have to endure four more years of George Bush.

I'm not happy about that result, but, unlike the last round, I do think the bastard won this time.

And this time, it won't be enough for us liberals and progressives to sit around and complain about the president who was appointed by the Supreme Court.

Instead, it's time to figure out why we lost, and how we can reach Americans without sacrificing our principles. Or the next election.

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