On Election Day, I was a nonpartisan volunteer on the phones at the D.C. Board of Elections from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Here is an approximate rendition of my day:
10 a.m.: Michelle C. calls from New York City. She is a D.C. resident, but she lost her job in Washington and has a job interview in the Big Apple at noon.
"I must vote," she says. "Please fax me an absentee ballot." I passed her voter registration number and fax number to one of the floor supervisors.
Later, Michael David W. calls from the Pennsylvania school where he teaches. He didn't receive his absentee ballot in the mail and begs for a ballot to be faxed. I get the same information from him.
Absentee ballots were a popular request all day, as were requests from people to confirm their registration status.
10:26 a.m.: Sandy T. is on her way to the Meyer School polling station.
"I haven't voted in a long time," she says, "so I want to see if I'm still registered."
The green message lights on the phones blink nonstop.
10:45 a.m.: I start asking callers how long they'd waited before I picked up:
"A very long time," says one.
"More than 30 minutes," says another.
"Seventeen rings," says a third.
But the voices are patient, calm and respectful.
"I know you're very busy there today," says one gentleman. "I just want to know if I can vote even though I haven't been contacted for jury duty in two years."
My job for the day: part telephone operator, part information specialist, all psychologist.
12:05 p.m.: Mrs. H. wants help inspiring her daughter, Lakesha, 23, to vote. I have a son about the same age and know the mind-set, so I ask for her daughter's number.
Lakesha and I talk.
I recommend that she check out the offerings at George Washington University around the corner from the Starbucks where she works.
"I know," Lakesha says. "I can't stay here forever." She says she'll go vote, and then she'll start planning her future.
12:35 p.m.: Early-morning voters start calling, worried about their votes being counted. One woman wonders if voters were being profiled by the poll workers who were assigning them paper or electronic ballots. In fact, the choice of ballot type was the voter's.
A woman who voted electronically in Precinct 80 asks if the machines were sensitive to fingertip oils.
"I use medicated cream on my hands and was really careful to ensure that my votes cleared," she said. "I worry about others who don't have as much patience as I do. Will their votes be counted?"
1 p.m.: The first of many calls from senior citizens comes in.
Una L., Ward 1, is unable to walk. She asks for a ride to the polls, but I can't offer one, I tell her with regret. I refer her to the office of her D.C. Council member.
"I can't hardly stand up," moans another woman, who desperately wanted to get to the polls. "My leg has a cramp."
I suggest that she take a nap and then try to vote later because the polls are open until 8 p.m.
2 p.m.: A George Washington University student calls on behalf of a worker in the campus bookstore who is worried about reaching the polls in time via Metro. Can a car pick up the worker? No, but we chat about other possible arrangements. The caller says she'll ask the bookstore manager if the staffer can leave a half-hour early.
3:50 p.m.: Genean S. works as a floater at Unity Health Care. She wants to leave early to vote, but an office e-mail has already said that is not allowed. Genean asks how late her polling station will open. She expects to find a long line at the end of the day.
"I'll take a chair and wait as long as I have to," she vows.
4:30 p.m.: As the light fades outside, a sweet, young voice asks for assurance that he will be able to vote at Kenilworth Elementary School, near where he lives. He has proof of address but no driver's license.
"I don't mind waiting," he says. "I just don't want any trouble."
"Go and ask for a special ballot," I suggest. "Our jurisdiction enables last-minute voting possibilities."
My Tuesday on the phones revealed an extraordinary determination and zeal in D.C. residents -- especially for an election that promised no surprise for the destination of the city's three electoral votes. We are indeed a special city, and I saw that firsthand on Election Day.
-- Audrey E. Hoffer