Tropical Storm Sandy had passed and left a clear, crisp morning as early voting started Saturday in Palm Beach County. An estimated 12,250 votes were cast countywide over the weekend, and if the 7 A.M. crowd at the Supervisor of Elections office on Military Trail was any indication, voters were patient, enthusiastic, and greatly black and Hispanic.
But counting the votes is another matter. A large portion of some 60,000 PBC absentee ballots were screwed up by a printing error. Now, though, they are ready to be counted. And with the presidential race too close to call, Florida a critical battleground state, and PBC with a history of electoral disaster--the Obama and Romney campaigns are taking no chances. Both have lawyered-up teams of out-of-town observers on the ground eyeballing the tally like a squad of proctologists.
Getting them to talk? Fuhgeddabout it.
The defective ballots have to be hand-copied so that the county's voting machines can read them. That work started early last week in a Riviera Beach industrial warehouse, a space large enough for a football field, under thirty-foot ceilings, with duplicating teams at an array of forty tables, racks and stacks of bins of ballots around them. The process, described in detail on the Supervisor of Elections website, goes on six days a week.
The two parties' observers have command desks in a holding pen outside the counting area, the Dem's area well-stocked with coffee and snacks, the GOP more spartan. Dress codes are similar: the Dems laidback in jeans, the GOP suited and tied, the young men quite preppy.
As Saturday's copying got started, the Dem team was gleefully passing around an iPhone with pictures of the morning's early voter turnout in Riviera Beach's majority black community. It was a light touch but still, this ain't no party. Ask the team leader how things are going and she says "No comment. I have no comment and none of us have any comment. I can give you a phone number for state headquarters in Tampa who'll also tell you 'No comment.' And if anyone here talks to you it's off the record."
All righty then....Sidle on up to the GOP team leader, a young lawyer out of Boston, and it's the same: Radio silence blackout.