On Friday, October 31 I made first contact from Hillsboro. I clicked send after typing my request e-mail to the state elections division in Salem with the subject line Provisional Ballots.
The next day at 9:17 a.m. I received a response from Elections SOS. It was good, and fairly clear ... but nothing I couldn't have found in their paper literature and their online help pages. I needed to delve like Rosencrantz kept waiting for Guildenstern to do in that play about them by Tom Stoppard.
My lengthy inquiry and rebuttal led to an unsigned – and presumably hasty – response without the benefit of punctuation, except an occasional period. Reading it brought back a high school social studies textbook taste in my mouth and a fog pulled in over my mind.
So, this is where my Washington County elections office entered the story. I had simultaneously emailed them similar questions and received similarly flat textbook answers – answers in which the responder avoided details about any possible problems. It's all by the book, sir. It's all by the book, they ensured me.
After two to three links had grown in our email chain, I received a direct response from whom I believed at that time to be the divisions number one man: Luther K. Arnold Jr., the Senior Administrative Specialist.
Mr. Arnold's email was short, directly to the point. And showed me nothing. But said clearly he felt my kind of questions were best answered over the phone.
I took down his contact essentials without replying because an Okay, will do sort of message seemed pointless. I was just happy Mr. Arnold had come across so ready to discuss the voting process with me.
On Monday, November 3 when I phoned Mr. Arnold, however, the perceived eagerness quickly turned to a avoid-and-resist dodging technique. His only full answer was that he couldn't answer anything fully. He directed me to the Oregon secretary of state's office. All over again.
In a sweet political-style feedback loop I wound up on the phone with the above-mentioned Brenda Bayes of the state elections SOS. Ms. Bayes was cordial and answered my questions by the book – refusing to even consider my base assumption that elections have faults and the process has been manipulated in our recent past (see documents by Robert Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast).
Ms. Bayes' great contribution to this part of the story was to pass me the name Mickey Kawai. She turned out (on the other end of our loop) to be the manager of my Washington County elections office – the exact kind of person I was hoping to talk with in the first place, a true in-the-muck foot soldier.
On the phone with Mickey Kawai later that day, the background noise from her end spoke in many voices urgent and oscillating. With my eyes closed the scene through the receiver became a whaling ship at sea, and Mickey Kawai became a captain both crazed with the possibility of a kill (that being a seamless process) and sane as thick concrete surrounding nuclear fission in progress (that being the possibility the process would fly apart).
However, her voice told me she was holding it all together – the chaotic operations of a county elections office the day before our biggest election day in recent history and the amped regular citizens eager to participate in her domain. At the same time there was an underlying threat of a Chernobyl-sized mishap hanging in the air, as much on my end as hers, congealing the entire county.
Unlike the mangers of the Chernobyl nuclear-plant in north-central Ukraine, Mickey Kawai managed to keep her office fuel elements (every participant) cool enough to avoid a meltdown, at least as long as we were on the phone together.
And before I disconnected, she had convinced me to come in with my video camera the following day for the big event. To observe. To participate.
Early on that day, November 4, I had to work my "real" job from 8 to 1, and then bolted straight to the elections office – camera and tripod in hand. My good friend and fellow interloper, Mr. Waldow, met me on the way.
We drove by the county building. Two lanes of backed up automobiles for blocks, the right lane full with voters preparing for a drive-by drop of their ballot into the solid steel box flanked by county workers under a portable tent set up in front of the main entrance.