Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"volunteers" checking Eisendrath's sigs

Yesterday I was at the Cook County Clerk's office at the invitation of James T. Smith who is running against Sen. Kimberly Lightford in the Democratic primary.

In the afternoon there was a big group checking petitions of a statewide candidate. The guy in charge referred to downstate counties as "places no one will ever go". The other line that stuck in my mind was that the leader was asked about the employment status of the sig checkers. He said they were off the clock, on different shifts or "flex time".

When I came back in the evening the same guy was checking people in at the security desk. I was asked gruffly by the security personnel what campaign I was with. I used Smith's name, but asked if it mattered.

The two security guards were frustrated with having to escort people in to the building. I don't know how necessary it was. And to the extent it was a problem, the security guards were out-of-line blaming the campaigns. If the Clerk and the Board of Elections didn't plan for this when they decided to have the offices open in the evening, it's not like it was my fault.

One thing that struck me as interesting was that the security guards offered to deputize a person from the Blagojevich campaign as an authorized escort. I doubt there was a partisan political angle to this. They probably just didn't want to make all the trips and decided the checker from the Blagojevich campaign was OK. But it does show how the powerful get special consideration automatically in society.

I rode the elevator to the fifth floor. The Blagojevich guy was going to the sixth floor. He said, "So you're not going to give me the satisfaction who you're with?" When I had said I was with "James T. Smith" I did ask in a somewhat accusatory manner, "Does it matter?" I explained that James T. Smith was not my name, but the name of a state senate candidate.

When I got inside, almost all the computers were taken by a group working together. And nobody was there from the Smith campaign. I figured I'd volunteer to help the Blagojevich people check Eisendrath's petitions. I explained I would swith over to helping Smith when he showed up.

One guy referred me to a male supervisor. He explained the system and gave me a sheet with mostly Chicago sigs. The Chicago sigs had already been checked at the Chicago Board of Elections. I did one page (less that six suburban Cook sigs) but got busted when I went back for another page.

The big supervisor, a female, said, "You're not with our group." They had signed-in as "Democratic Party of Illinois". I explained my situation and told them if they preferred I would not check sigs for them. I did intend to stay at the computer I was using so I wouldn't be boxed out.

I don't know what political organization they were with, but I suspect it was a ward organization. The two people next to me were from County Commissioner Earleen Collins office. James Smith knew them. Everybody else was relatively young and there were no Blacks, Asians or Latinos.

At one point the group asked if any of the sig checkers were from the 13th Ward. The announcement was that the 13th Ward people were supposed to be upstairs.

I'm not sure when requiring "volunteer" political work becomes illegal, but it seems hard for me to believe that all those people were there because they love Rod Blagojevich and thought helping his campaign was the best use of their time five days before Christmas.

If any journalists want to investigate the story, everyone was required to sign into the Clerk's office. I expect if you run their names in the voter rolls it will be pretty clear which ward they were from.


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