A sample ballot can be a useful tool for voters who are bewildered by a laundry list of complicated constitutional amendments or down-ballot races. Typically, it’s a party’s way of communicating with voters about which issues and candidates are supported by parties, groups and sometimes individual candidates. But the Democratic Committee’s sample ballot for this week’s special election was a much simpler affair.
Only one race was at stake, and so the sample ballot was designed to let voters know that they should support Democrat <b>Justin Wilson</b> over his opponent. But who was his opponent? A careful review of the Democratic sample ballot handed out this week included a bold and easy-to-read text of Wilson’s name and party affiliating. Yet in the line above Wilson’s name — barely legible, as if it were a ghost — was the name of Republican <b>Bill Cleveland</b>.
"It must have been written with disappearing ink," joked Democratic volunteer <b>Ben Kellom</b> outside Lyles-Crouch precinct Tuesday morning. "Maybe it will become legible if you dip it in lemon juice."
Republicans opted not to create a sample ballot for the single-issue election.
<b>Working the Polls</b>
On a typical Election Day, Democratic and Republican volunteers man the precincts to talk to voters about issues and candidates. But Tuesday’s special election was different. Although the Democratic Party had volunteers stationed at all 26 precincts, Republican volunteers were scattered — leaving most polling places with only Democrats.
"We wanted to put all of our effort into getting out the vote, and that means working the phones," said <b>Steve Jackson</b>, who managed Cleveland’s campaign. "So that’s why we didn’t have many volunteers outside the precincts."
Yet with only one race on the ballot and a hardcore electorate of summertime voters — the kind of people who never miss an election — even some of the Democratic volunteers admitted that working the polls might not have too much of an effect on the final outcome of the election. In the shadow of the Ladrey Senior Center, which is located directly across the street from the Alexandria City Republican Committee headquarters, Democratic volunteer <b>Dolores Benavides</b> spent the afternoon handing out sample ballots and chatting with neighborhood residents.
"In a way, I do question the wisdom of this," said Benavides during an afternoon lull. "People who come here already seem to know what they are going to do. But I still think it’s important to be out here showing people that this is important, and interacting with voters is always fun."
Election Day was hot, pushing the mercury past 94 at one point. During the hottest parts of the day, party volunteers sought shelter inside the air-conditioned precincts for relief. A mid-day check of West End precincts found the polls devoid of external signs of life — lacking the campaigning partisans typically camped out at each location clutching sample ballots and grip cards.
At the St. Martin dePorres Senior Center, election volunteer <b>Valeria Henderson</b> was standing alone in the midday heat next to a "vote here" sign. Asked why she was braving the hottest part of the day in the full sun, she explained that she had been in the air-conditioned senior center since the polls opened at 6 a.m., and it was time for a break from the climate-controlled interior of the precinct.
"I came out here to thaw out," said Henderson. "It was getting a little too cold in there for me."
Virginia law requires all campaign materials to have an "authorization line," explaining who paid for its publication and dissemination. But one piece of paper handed to a Democratic volunteer in Old Town yesterday had no authorization line and no hint of who wrote it or where it came from. The one-page, seven-paragraph flyer asked voters to support Bill Cleveland and accused Justin Wilson being a "backroom campaign fundraiser" for Mayor Bill Euille.
"This sort of thing has no place in politics," said Cleveland spokesman <b>Mike Lane</b>, adding that the Alexandria Republican City Committee had no knowledge of the flyer. "All campaign materials need an authorization line, and that’s all there is to it."