Campaign chaos? Not in Grinnell
By Michael McAllister
While the election campaign may be confusing, frustrating, and even disheartening at the national level—fueled by both October and November surprises—the campaign is calm in Grinnell, at least if activity at either party headquarters and participation in early voting are to serve as barometers.
But to characterize activity as calm is not to imply a lack of interest.
Early voters at Grinnell’s Drake Community Library on Saturday, November 5, were in line shortly after the polling place opened at 9:00 a.m. Thanks to the number of volunteers and the efficiency of the operation, however, the lines did not last long, and the entire process—from filling out the registration card to dropping the sealed ballot into the metal box—took no more than fifteen minutes.
Perhaps the most difficult part—assuming a voter did not have to agonize over last-minute choices—was keeping the black ink within the rectangles on the ballot. (Could this method of voting be why our elementary teachers stressed coloring within the lines?)
In the last week before the election, party offices were also calm, yet they were providing important services to voters and fulfilling their roles as integral parts of party campaigns. Republican headquarters, located at 914 Main Street, reminds passersby of an earlier era with a life-size cutout of President Ronald Reagan.
Services stemming from the office include voter registration assistance, absentee ballot requests, information about specific candidate positions, and general conversation—the importance of the latter not to be underestimated since the free exchange of ideas is one of the guiding principles of democracy.
Diana Hansen, Secretary of the Poweshiek County Republican Central Committee, estimated that some 15 to 20 volunteers have staffed Republican headquarters since it opened. The office rent is supported entirely by donations. No volunteer receives compensation. Yard signs and promotional materials that the office disperses are provided by individual campaigns.
According to Hansen, voter concerns this election include Supreme Court nominees and the economy and jobs. The issues are “Republican issues basically,” she stated, referring to “securing our borders and …making sure we have the strongest military in the world.”
It is reasonable to assume that the Democratic Party Headquarters at 823 Fourth Avenue provides services like those of the Republican office. Volunteers at the office, while quite cordial, declined to be interviewed for this piece, but clearly the office distributes campaign materials, yard signs, voter registration assistance, and general information.
For example, one gentleman asked when the next round of early voting would occur in Grinnell, and he learned that it would be Saturday, November 5, at the library.
Which brings us back to that location.
The library’s community room became a polling place with the addition of approximately 18 voting stations, the participation of approximately 15 volunteers, and the infusion of an unregistered but undoubtable degree of civility. “Our lines are better than Georgia’s,” one worker was heard to joke.
The lines moved quickly in any case, and voters were soon on their way, having exercised one of their fundamental rights. During an election season that seems to have generated more than its fair share of contentiousness, it was refreshing to see people participating in an atmosphere of cordiality and goodwill.
Perhaps the people who best personified the experience were two official observers, Emily Moore, Democrat, pictured below on the left, and Vicki Burnell, Republican, on the right. Although of two rival political parties, the ladies are good friends.
Observers are limited to merely observing during an early voting situation, but on election day they can question irregularities if they feel they have seen any.
It seemed unlikely, however, that anything to question would occur Saturday morning at the library.
No doubt most Grinnellians will be following the news closely on Tuesday and Tuesday night. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence at least in the immediate vicinity that democracy as we have come to understand it is functioning well.