As always, the campaign for California’s 43rd Assembly District seat produced its share of interesting stories, from the heartwarming and inspiring to the weird and lurid.
I ended up at three different polling places during the course of Election Day, April 13. The last one I got to was particularly heartening. Not only was there an acquaintance (whose son was one of my opponents in last year’s Burbank City council race) at the greeting table—used because three precincts’ polling places were in this church—but she lamented over the poor turnout typical of special elections: “Don’t these people realize how precious a right voting is?” She had even recruited, for a short period of time, a personal friend who’d come to vote, to help Armenians needing language assistance. It’s unfortunate that in a densely Armenian area, not one of the three precincts’ poll workers was an Armenian speaker. Now consider that this was the same polling place where an incompetent and possibly racist/anti-Armenian poll worker had summoned the police three years ago when one of our trouble shooting attorneys was simply trying to have the rules followed. No surprise— the poll worker was in the wrong, and
the police “sided” with our guy. Now that’s progress.
The other good news is that on Election Day, as I went to remind people to get out and vote, I ended up with a list of about a dozen people—young adults, new citizens, people who’d moved, etc.—who had to be registered. In fact, one of them, having seen me at the Burbank Armenian Center, approached me while I was checking who’d voted at the above polling place. Maybe that church has good electoral karma. Conversely, one woman, whose husband was registered but not she, refused to give me her phone number so that the ANC-Burbank could schedule a time to register her and have her husband become a permanent absentee voter. Why would that be important? He works in the entertainment industry, crazy hours, which precluded him from voting, at least this time. This aversion to giving out a simple phone number is a manifestation of the culture of fear in which we live.
Shifting chronologically backward from the election, I have to convey that one person’s absentee ballot was hand delivered all the way from Armenia! Also, others who happen to be all the way over in Armenia now were campaigning—electronically encouraging their circles of friends and relatives to get out to the polls, vote, and vote for the best candidate.
A friend, in this case a non-Armenian, told me the story of his girlfriend’s exchange with some people in her circle. When she tried to get them to vote, the response was “Obama did nothing for me!” I can imagine how flabbergasted she must’ve been. This was a special election for a state assembly district. What has Obama, for better OR worse, to do with it? If it wasn’t such a tragedy, this could be enjoyed as farce!
And things get progressively worse as we go farther back. The whole campaign was marred by the divisiveness sown, and/or exploited, within the Armenian community by outside forces. It’s just plain sad.
But truly heart wrenching was this interaction I had with an elderly woman. She needed to be reregistered to vote, having recently changed her residence. We filled out the form and got to talking. She mentioned that Chahe Keuroghelian’s campaign had promised to help in reregistering her a few weeks earlier and wanted to know if she should let them know not to come. Of course this opened up the topic of who was the optimal candidate from an Armenian community perspective, Chahe or Nayiri Nahabedian. When I explained that Chahe had no chance of winning but Nayiri did, she was truly torn and tears almost welled up in her eyes…
I’ve saved strangest for last, and this is only a sampling. During the course of the campaign, I heard, admittedly second-hand, that some TV commentators were accusing Nayiri of supporting bestiality. I suppose in their “minds” this fits in with her “unforgiveable” support of gay rights. But the best one of these is the claim that Nayiri would eliminate the words “mother” and “father.” This lulu I heard first hand when a caller asked me about it during the call-in time of an Armenian TV show, on which I was that day’s guest. Then, on Election Day, in speaking to a poll worker at the first polling place I went to (small problem of signage directing people to the entrance had to be solved) I learned that the same issue was raised at an SEIU (one of the unions supporting Nayiri) meeting. An Armenian woman had announced that she wouldn’t vote for Nayiri because she’d eliminated “mother” and “father” from the textbooks! So this wasn’t just some operative spreading the word. People ACTUALLY BELIEVED this stuff, else they’d never repeat it. It’s fascinating, how out of touch with reality some people can be.
Let’s all work towards a more unified and saner community approach to future elections.