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An American snapshot

Tom Boyd

On the morning of Nov. 2, sunlight came streaming into Donovan Pavilion like a message from higher powers, or an act of providence, or maybe just a beautiful coincidence. Either way, the sun collaborated with clock and calendar to open a historic day of voting in Vail’s multiple precincts, and a long line of voters were on hand, ready and anxious to take part in some of the most highly contested elections of our time.Even more than the Fourth of July, when tinsel, flags and fireworks turn our valley into a Rockefeller-style bastion of Americana, Election Day reveals the nuts and bolts of who we really are, what we really believe, and what messages we have to send to our political higher powers. On the morning of Nov. 2 the nation was facing the possibility of a political system that functioned lopsidedly, or irrationally, or that didn’t function well at all. The process was in the hands of the people, as the forefathers intended, and those people had a great amount of responsibility. Election officials large and small were counted on to count correctly, to be fair, to be neutral, and to ensure that if a vote was cast, the vote would count.But would it work in Eagle County?Joe Ryan wasn’t so sure.Fast forward to evening time at Donovan Pavilion. The sun has gone down and the polls are nearing their close. Ryan has been away from work for a little over three hours, and he tells me about his struggle to get his vote cast.Ryan and two other provisional ballot holders were asked if they were confident their vote would count. The other two nodded yes. But not Ryan.”I’m not confident,” he said. “I don’t think my vote will count.”New to town, previously registered in Boulder, Ryan now lives in East Vail. He and a friend took off work and drove to Eagle to register for a provisional ballot, which allows them only the opportunity to vote for president. Ryan’s friend filled out an emergency address change, but Ryan couldn’t be found in the state database. As far as Colorado was concerned, he didn’t exist.Then began the trek back to Donovan Pavilion, where each were handed a provisional ballot. Only if the voting were close, which it wasn’t, would the two Kerry supporters’ votes be counted. Even if it were close, Ryan figured that his identity, for now, had been lost in the shuffle.”There were five women huddled around my ballot, trying to figure out what to do with me,” he said.And that’s exactly right. Teak Simonton, county clerk and recorder, had five assistants on hand Nov. 2 to deal with election puzzles like the one Ryan presented. But election law has become so convoluted that county clerk and recorders around the country are struggling to understand how to handle difficult situations.”We’ve been working seven days a week, crossing every ‘T’ and dotting every ‘I’,” Simonton told me days before the election. “There are five of us with multiple phone lines and cell phones, but training everybody to be able to competently answer the questions is close to impossible.”Problems have arisen nation wide, and although it appears voting complications won’t cripple this year’s electoral process, it still seems there are difficulties making sure every proper vote counts, and every improper vote does not.As Ryan put it: “At least you don’t get refused.”There were two people, said election judge Robert Schilling, who left frustrated after a half hour or so of waiting in line. Ryan said he was determined to enter his vote, no matter what it took.On the front lines on Election Day, as they almost always are, was a stalwart group of election judges who have been integral to local elections for quite some time: Vi Brown, Mary Jo Allen, Celine Krueger, and Flo Habenicht. This dedicated group has been integral to Vail’s elections for as long as any of them can remember, or at least, as Krueger put it, “For longer than I can remember.”And that includes off-year elections, too.Brown remembers working the elections before Vail had a precinct, back in the early 1960s, when Vail voters had to go to Minturn. This is the first election since those days, she said, that voters have been so vehemently charged up and active.”It’s pretty close to Vietnam, if you ask me,” she said. “We had a lot of hippies then, and they were against the war, they were our social conscious then and we have a lot to thank them for.”Brown has always had political convictions; she is one of those folks that couldn’t wait until her 18th birthday so she could have the right to vote.”I came from Minnesota, where politics were talked about all the time, especially the farmers,” she said. “At that time it was Truman we grew up hearing the men talk about it all the time.”At the time, she said, women weren’t as involved in the process, something she and her group of friends has surely remedied here in Vail over the past 40-some years.The gals aren’t allowed to discuss politics at the polls everything must be neutral within 100 feet of the polling area.And although a deep belief in the system brings the girls to every election, large or small, they love other elements of it as well.”Even though it’s hectic and busy, it’s fun,” said Allen, who has been proctoring elections for about 25 years. “You see people you haven’t seen in years it’s a bit of a social event.”The girls bring a potluck for lunch (Krueger brought sloppy joe’s, perhaps to stave off a sloppy election), although they didn’t have time to eat it. Both a morning rush and a lunch rush had voters spilling out the doorway, but the wait never exceeded about half an hour.In future elections we can expect to see student judge Dorothy Morton taking part. Morton, a 17-year-old senior at Battle Mountain, is much like her older counterparts: excited to take part in an American tradition.”People are passionate about the political scene right now, this is really exciting,” she said.Morton is going to take the money she made from working the event and put it into a school program called Interact. The program gets high school students out into the community volunteering and providing community service.By 6:30 p.m. the flood of voters had reduced to a steady trickle, with 1,774 voters making their mark on the county and national scene from their precinct location at Donovan. Collectively, the Eagle County votes began coming into Simonton’s office around 7 p.m., but 41.5 percent of the county’s registered voters had made their choices before Nov. 2 even came.The mood, from all accounts, was mixed at a Democratic party at Fiesta’s. Tears were shed in joy of Democratic dominance inside Eagle County, with State House candidate Heather Lemon the only Republican coming out on top in any Eagle County vote count and only by a slim vote margin. Lemon was losing Wednesday afternoon Nov. 3 (with 43 of 52 precincts reporting), to her opponent Gary Lindstrom in the district, which means Lindstrom most likely will be taking a seat in Colorado’s house next year. And U.S. Senate candidate Ken Salazar topped out Pete Coors as well, both statewide and in Eagle County.And John Kerry won Eagle County as well, something that may come as a surprise for those who consider the county to be conservative. In fact, across the board, Eagle County let its blue colors shine. Even Bruce Brown, a Democratic candidate for district attorney, won Eagle County by a close margin over incumbent Mark Hurlbert. Jay Fetcher wasn’t significantly hurt by a Vail Daily endorsement for Jack Taylor although Taylor won the race at large, Fetcher won Eagle County.So Debbie Marquez, the county’s Democratic party leader, had reason to celebrate. A county that barely registered on the Democratic map, and which has traditionally leaned slightly to the right, came out blue all over in 2004. There’s only one problem her presidential candidate would concede victory on the morning of Nov. 3, and a change of direction for the nation was denied in the highest office.This idea, for many, is repulsive. Angry anti-Bush rebels had already shown their lust for destruction in Eagle County, burning signs and chopping them down with chainsaws. As of Nov. 3, however, no major rebellions had erupted in Eagle County, or nation-wide for that matter. Over the next four years President Bush now has the opportunity to unite the country or face even more divisive rebellion from anti-Bush rebels around the nation. Eagle County has shown its preference can Bush win us over in the near future? This remains to be seen.With so much on the line, so many voters coming to the polls, and so many tough decisions to make, it’s sometimes difficult to remember the human element of elections.Arn Menconi and his pregnant wife Anne made a showing at Fiesta’s to celebrate Menconi’s solid victory over A.J. Johnson and Buz Reynolds.Anne is expecting a trip to Vail Valley Medical center to deliver her first-born anytime now perhaps right as you are reading this, Anne will be in the maternity ward.But she has been waiting out a stressful few months lately, wondering if the father of her child will keep his job at the county.”We’ll get a couple of day’s rest and then get on to the real business at hand,” said the expectant father.”It’s sort of one of those things where you feel good, but there are so many people out voting that you don’t know 100 percent what will happen,” Anne said.As for the baby?”I hope we’re there really soon,” she said. “I’m ready to go.”With a solid job and a baby on the way, Arn is at the top of his game. As is Peter Runyon, who won soundly over challenger Richard DeClark. Runyon ran on a smart-growth platform, and won 9,204 to 7,706, delivering a strong vote for those who want to see a responsible, conservative approach to growth in the county.It’s not as though Republicans are lost completely in Eagle County, they still hold a strong base here, and have proven they can win elections here in the past. Taylor is still the District 8 state senator, and Lemon and Hurlbert still had a chance to win as of Wednesday afternoon.But a Republican fringe element may have pushed away voters who would otherwise go with the Republican flow. A Republican pollster was reportedly harassing voters outside of several precincts, waving a camera and presenting verbal challenges to election judges. Other Republican leaders in the county came out in the media with full-blown conspiracy theories and angry accusations lacing their quotations, especially in the anonymous Tipsline comments printed by the Vail Daily. If election results are any indication, Democrats and independents alike were inclined to quietly ignore the right-wing fringe.Other bizarre happenings were reported at home and around the nation. Somebody in Eagle County, for example, voted for Prohibition Party candidate Earl F. Dodge. Colorado was the only state Dodge made the ballot, and the Vail Trail simply must know who this person is and why they went for Dodge (give us a call if you voted for Dodge and wish to volunteer this information to us!).And VH1 threw credibility to the wind by holding a presidential “Bling-off” between Bush and Kerry during the day, comparing the relative “Bling-factor” of each candidate (Bling, by the way, is slang for flashy wealth).Around the world, leaders tended to be OK with Bush winning, but the world populace was pulling heavily for a Kerry victory. It’s safe to say that Bush’s victory did little to endear us to the people of the world. We are, apparently, still a few years away from Fortress America, as Tony Blair, Ariel Sharon and Vladimir Putin seemed quite content with a Bush victory.Tony Mauro and Steve Lee stayed on the air and took calls on KZYR, 97.7 late into the night, giving depth to the local races and keeping us up to date on local news.All in all, Election Day 2004 looked and felt like a 24-hour long Super Bowl (but with much more on the line). Phone calls were coming in and out of Vail Trail election headquarters (which is, essentially, the front room of my apartment in West Vail).There were some big changes and clear statements made by voters on election day. Nationally, Bush has been given the power to continue his methods in the War on Terror and, most importantly, he has been given the nod to continue his pre-emptive approach to war in general.Locally, Eagle County has shown that, over the past several years, it has grown steadily more Democratic, perhaps because water and the environment, as poll after poll indicates, are the top issues of our valley.And now we have a slightly different picture of America, and of Eagle County. But at its heart, America is still the same, slowly changing course as we sail onward to the future.And we have people like Teak Simonton to thank. People like Vi Brown and the gang at Donovan Pavilion, and people like Joe Ryan, who took a chunk out of his day (and therefore his paycheck) to get his vote in on time.Now it’s time for our elected officials to get back to the grindstone, represent the people, and do as good of a job as they can before the next election rolls around. VTTom Boyd can be reached at tboyd@vailtrail.com


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