Tag Archives: vote

My American Story

Ballot Box

28th. February 1953

Dear Professor Lederberg,

Dr. Clive Spicer, who recently spent some time under you, has informed me that there might be a vacancy in your department for a graduate English student.

Such a project interests me very much and I would, if it is still open, like to offer myself as a possible candidate. Would you be so ‘kind as to let me have some further details  about it?

A. Bernstein

Thus began my American Story.

In 1953 my father bridled under the strains of life in post-war England. He had trained for a career in medicine, but after years as a corpsman during the Battle of Britain he had seen too much death. He had administered last rights in muted voice too many times and for too many faiths to ever face a career of dealing with patients, so he settled for research and teaching.

The post-war years had already taken him around the formerly occupied countries of Europe to help rebuild the medical establishment and treat the distressingly high rates of fevers and infections. He was released from service in 1948 after service as Emergency Lieutenant, War Substantive Captain, Substantive Captain, and finally mustered out in 1959 as Captain, the rank he carried to his death. The rank he would much rather never had taken.

My father, to put it direct, was eager, no fast, to get out of Britain and her post-war shock of austerity and deprivation. He had suffered already too much of that. Many tales are told of the Brits steadfastness and stolidness, in the face of Hitler’s unending siege, and indeed my father had witnessed his own home being destroyed by a V2 “buzz-bomb” and the virtually complete destruction of his country’s financial system. He wanted out, and NOW. He was tired of the straight jacket that England had become for him. He wanted the dream, the dream that had motivated so many emigrants from so many countries who flocked to the United States in those years.

I am having a little difficulty at present with the Bank of England in trying to arrange for the transfer of some of my Sterling assets to the U.S. I think that they will agree but time is running rather short…

The British were loath to let their citizen’s hard assets leave their shores. Indeed my mother, in 1977, fully 14 years after his emigration, had to fight to get the last of his bank notes released.
But I digress. Dad did get out, and he came to America, and met my mother in that lab in Madison, and they wed in December of 1954 and moved back to England when my father’s visa expired in 1955. They started a family, bought a modest semi-detached home, and finally, in 1963, moved back to the United States when he got a position at Marquette University.

On June 20, 1968, one day after his 46th birthday (I have just turned 46, so this is significant to me), and just two weeks after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, my father received his naturalization papers from this United States, his United States – He was a Citizen of these United States! He celebrated the fourth of July that year with an uncharacteristic enthusiasm.

He voted that November 4th for Hubert Humphrey. A Labour Party regular all his life in England he could not have done otherwise.

My own political awakening, born in 1968 when my parents hosted Students for McCarthy, came into its fullness in 1972 with the campaign of George McGovern. I was young, only 10 years old on election night, but I was a dedicated foot-soldier for McGovern, having distributed thousands of pieces of literature for him in some of the toughest wards of the city.

I still remember that election night, sitting in the local McGovern headquarters on Oakland Ave. and watching the polls come in.

I must digress here for a moment. Many of my friends these days know that I always watch the polls come in. For many reasons this is a remnant of that first election night I witnessed. I implicitly trust the democratic system, but I equally implicitly distrust the physical manifestation of that system.

My father came to the McGovern office at 8:00 to collect me and take me home. The next day was a school day and I could not be allowed to stay up all night. I was reluctant to go, to say the least, but I did.

In the car, on the way home, I looked at my dad and asked if he had voted. “Yes,” he said. ” Who for?” I demanded. He paused. “Nixon,” he said. “How could you do that, Dad?!? You know how hard we all worked on the McGovern campaign. How could you?”

“For once in my life,” he said, “I wanted to vote for a winner.”

We never spoke of this again.

In the summer of 1974 we were camping in Indiana when Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency of the United States of America. The first ever to do so. My mother couldn’t wait to call her brother John who had been a big organizer for Nixon in his home state of Virginia. I just had to sidle on up to my dad and …

… and say nothing. I wanted to ask him how he thought about his winner now, but I knew how he felt, and he didn’t need his snot-nosed kid to rub it in.

I am listening to Bruce Springsteen sing “Born in the USA” on the Hi-Fi right now. I can always appreciate that song even if I cannot identify with it. I was not born here, but this is my country as surely as it was my father’s, or my maternal grandfather’s – a seventh generation American.

Much has been made this year of early voting, and I have endured innumerable entreaties to vote early myself. I have done this in previous elections, but I shall not, will not, this year. This Tuesday, November 4th, marks the 40th anniversary of my father’s first vote as a naturalized American citizen. On that day I will cast my own ballot, proudly, for another son of an immigrant. And I will smile at my father’s memory, for I know that he would have voted the same way – for a winner.

Mythology/History In The Making

There are some significant trends in the current election which may well make for a very interesting, and very different, election night:

  • High Turnout
  • Poll Proliferation
  • Early Voting

The turnout in this election is likely to be the highest in modern times, and possibly the highest in American history.  Bill McInturff, John McCain’s pollster, in a somewhat self-serving analysis, is predicting well over 62% turnout.  It is already “Conventional Wisdom” that black turnout may reach 95% in many states.  Whenever an uncontrolled variable, like gross turnout, veers wildly out of standard deviation the polling models used by most pollsters will start to fall apart.

This separation between the polls and reality is complicated in this race due to many factors, some of which the major polling organizations have already prepared for, such as the proliferation of cellphone only lifestyles by younger voters (Pew already is polling cellphones) and some which they cannot adjust for, such as historical shifts in numbers voting.

Another exacerbating influence this year is the proliferation of polls and polling analysis websites.  A good story in the New York Times today reports on this, and with millions of hits daily spread between four or five sites, you know that there are a lot of people getting daily or even hourly updates on the current state of the race.  With as many as 30 polls a day, spread between national and state, and a surfeit of analytical sites, many people are, get ready for this, deciding the news for themselves, rather than relying upon a select reportariat to feed it to them.  Thus more uncertainty.

Lastly, early voting is happening in more states that ever before, and in many states this will lead to more uncertainty on election night than ever before.  “Why,” you might ask, “if people are voting early then we will know the outcome earlier, right?”  Well, not so fast.

While some states have exercised vote-by-mail or other early voting options for many years, like Oregon, and have built their systems around it, other states, like Wisconsin, do not actually have a dedicated early voting system and simply leverage their existing absentee ballot systems.  This can lead to extended waits on election night as these absentee ballots are sorted and counted and apportioned to their appropriate precincts.  This is a wildcard on many election nights, but with early voting accounting for as much as 40% of the tally in some states, expect it to be much worse this time.

Much has been made this year of the “Bradley Effect,” a much discredited theory which states that polls are skewed in favor of African-American candidates because people being polled may lie about their preference.  While numerous studies have shown this to be an untruth, there is significant reportage and first person accounts telling us that the real “Bradley Effect” — the under polling of Mayor Tom Bradley’s gubernatorial opponent — George Deukmejian was due to the failure of Bradley’s pollsters to take account of the high absentee voting that year.

So, what does this mean for you?

  • Well, for starters, pay no attention to the polls.  There is not a single polling organization which has a model which can account for all of this.
  • Secondly, vote!  Nothing can ally your own concerns about the state of the race like voting for yourself.
  • Next, get everyone you know to vote.  They deserve the same degree of surety as you do.  Besides, if you know them the chances are pretty good that they will vote like you.
  • Lastly, don’t expect an early epiphany on election night.  While we very well may know the next President of the United States a week from me writing these words, it may just as well take a day or more to sort out all of those early ballots.

If you, like me, want to see Barack Obama in the Whitehouse come January 20th, please follow those steps.  Please vote, make those around you vote, and then be patient.  This is truly history in the making.