The Ground War

Hanging with the Florida troops out to win—and keep—a Kerry victory

"Ninety-nine percent of that has gone toward person-to-person canvassing," said Joy Reid, who showed me around. We saw the Palm Pilots the groups used over the spring and summer to visit voters and record their interest in issues and voting preference. "Now we have a relationship with those people," Reid explained, "and we're going back, targeting specifically people who support Kerry but are unlikely to vote without a little encouragement." We were standing in a giant room with 300 chairs to accommodate the people who disperse daily with detailed walk lists to reach those people. On the wall was a figure: 158,000 door knocks to date. That's one county. "This kind of thing has never been done before," she said. As innovative data managers, ACT has also developed a system to keep track of who's voted already, and although I promised not to divulge details, the outlook is promising.

ACT's disciplined organization, too, is just one of many ground operations. MoveOn's well-funded political-action committee is making a parallel effort. As are the NAACP Voter Fund, the unions, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and a host of even more specifically targeted get-out-the-vote groups looking to draw out the Caribbean, liberal Latino and youth votes. "The trends are looking good across the board," Reid said. "Hispanics are polling at 40 percent for Kerry in Florida. Remember, Bush got 80 percent in 2000. And it's looking like more younger voters are going to come out than last time. Bush's positives are capping out under 50 percent. I think it's going to be a very surprising result."

There's no arguing with that. Florida's become such a nail-biter any result would be a surprise. There are so many absentee ballots out, in fact, that it may not be possible to count them all by Tuesday night. And if the Republicans have their way, there's sure to be enough mayhem on Election Day to leave room for lasting dispute. In fact, the latest Republican tactic to emerge is the use of its poll observers to challenge individuals' right to vote at the precinct level. "They'll do it in Democratic precincts," Davis said, "to slow down the voting there." It was to have a similar effect as the indirect disenfranchisement Markowitz and others saw last time, although this year it will be more organized. "I'm worried about things like that," Markowitz said when I brought it up, "but I'm not distracted." We were sitting at a union rally in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The PA was loudly looping the SEIU 1199's theme song, "Ain't No Stopping Us Now." Near us were the cones demarcating yet another early-polling booth filled with people on a weekend. "Because what's going to happen here," Markowitz continued, "is the Democratic kind of democracy—we're going to get more votes in the ballot boxes than they can possible steal."

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