3:53 p.m. November 6, 2012

Taking Democracy Into My Own Hands (Or: buying a vote with NSFWCORP's Money)

Cleveland is no Miami, it’s not as cold as I feared. And at least the cabs all take credit cards. I tell my driver, Zeeshan Hashmi, to head to the Halloran Skating Rink, the polling place with the highest number of voters the county. I’ve got an election to monitor.

As we pull out of the airport, I ask Zeeshan whether he’s voted yet. Not yet. He tells me he’s an Obama fan. Hmm…

According to the FiveThirtyEight blog, Ohio has a nearly 50% chance of being the state that provides the decisive electoral vote to the winning candidate. And according to NSFWCORP HQ, Ohio voting is dominating the news. What if Zeeshan gets caught up in some high-stakes voter suppression? What if he gets to the polls too late? His vote could determine the fate of our country.

I think about the long lines in Miami this morning and make a decision: why simply monitor the election when I can actively influence it? And so it's decided: after the skating rink, we’re going to Zeeshan’s polling place. In a (probably totally legal) sense, I’ll be paying Zeeshan to go vote. Well, technically, NSFWCORP will be paying him. But I demand full credit for this scheme if Zeeshan tips the balance.

The skating rink is a bit of a bust, fraud-wise. The lines are pretty short, and there are no union or jackbooted thugs outside practicing the subtle art of voter intimidation. I do meet a union fireman speaking against Issue 119 (making the Fire Chief a political appointee), but he seemed like a pretty nice guy.

Back in the cab, we head toward Zeeshan’s suburb, Broadview Heights. We pass the American Greetings World Headquarters, where, I imagine, underpaid writers slave over new ways to say “I love you” in a windowless boiler room. I wonder if they make Election Day cards.

I ask Zeeshan, formerly of Pakistan, why he supports the president.

“His policies.”

I ask him to elaborate. “We have give him little more chance.”

Ok… I try a different angle. “Is it that you don’t like Mitt Romney?”

“Both is the same,” he says. “Both is very good gentlemens...” Zeeshan likes Obama simply because he’s already president. “Maybe he will do something little more better” in the second term, he says. But he admits that “Romney is very nice . . . both is having the same policies.”

Hey, a vote’s a vote. And according to Zeeshan, who seems to know the political proclivities of every neighborhood, Barack needs help in Broadview Heights. “I think only I am for Obama,” he laughs. “And my wife.”

We reach the Broadview Heights Community Building where the voters are mostly white. Unlike in Miami, I blend right in.

While Zeeshan does his civic duty in a gymnasium, I chat with Carol Michel, an Obama poll observer who has observed no electoral untowardness, and John Thobaben, whom I think is a non-partisan election worker. They’re both friendly grandparent-type folks. John’s happy that the political ads end tomorrow. “We are so sick of those.” He and Carol pleasantly chat-gripe together about the ads, the phone calls and the Super PACs.

When Zeeshan is finished, we watch his wife, Naeema, cast her ballot across the gym. But the machine won’t accept it. After some discussion, she receives a new ballot and votes again. Could this be the electoral malfeasance I’ve been looking for?

Nope – turns out she just mismarked her first ballot. There’s no problem with the machine.

Zeeshan drops me off at a restaurant so I can grab a sandwich. He comes back with his own personal van, so I don’t have to pay for the cab ride back to the airport. He tells me his wife wanted to invite me to their house for some food. I am sorry to miss that. Next time, Zeeshan. For now, I’m off to Charlotte.