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Throughout the north side of Pittsburgh, one of the city's three major Black districts, they lined up before dawn, hundreds deep in the 47-degree weather as if they were waiting for history to be made. Even after the polling places opened into an instant crawl, they kept coming.
And they kept coming all day.
One of them was a 19-year old named Loric Frye. Frye was a Pennsylvanian, and because of that, he was a key voter in the presidential election. Senator John McCain had staked his strategy on winning the state, hoping to steal it from Senator Barack Obama in his comeback bid.
But Frye was far from the kind of clean-scrubbed, neatly partisan first-time voter Republicans would ever think to appeal to or CNN would ever bother to interview.
Frye was a young brother in oversized pants. His young son was at home and his girlfriend was pregnant with their daughter. He had no high-school diploma. He had no fancy title. Frye was, no, still is in the process of putting it all together.
If you went strictly by the stats, he wasn't even supposed to have found his way into the voting booth yesterday. And truth be told, he almost didn't.
He admits that up until this year, politics didn't interest him. Barack got his attention. But the person who really turned him around was a man named Paradise Gray, a legendary hip-hop promoter and activist, who got Frye work as a community organizer doing voter outreach.
Frye spent the year canvassing, registering and door-knocking with Khari Mosley and the League of Young Voters. He started to feel deeply invested in the election and the political process. He spent the last few weeks doing get-out-the-vote work. All politics remains local. All transformations begin
with the personal.
So Loric Frye was excited to cast his first ballot yesterday.
But when he showed up with his voter registration card, he was told he "wasn't qualified", he said. "Something about it was illegal."
At first he thought it was the fact that he had been arrested once. But he had never been convicted or charged. He called Mosley and Gray. They came and took him down to the Board of Elections. There, Frye discovered that there were 6 registration forms in his name. Faced with conflicting information, including different social security numbers, some clerk had decided to qualify him.
It was true that he had moved twice since filling out his first form. When you're young and you're trying to get yourself together, that kind of thing happens. But he was so hyped to vote he made sure to re-register his new address every time that he moved.
When the Board of Elections official pulled out the other three forms, Frye could see that they were fakes. The registering agents were from ACORN. They had apparently used his name, invented addresses, and forged his signature 3 more times. The irony of the ACORN voter fraud case is that, in the few instances that it did impact real people, it didn't affect McCain supporters, it affected the poor people most fired up to vote for Obama.
When dawn had broken, a massive national effort at election protection got underway, born of the nightmares from the disputed 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. It was aided in part by web 2.0 tools. A fraudulent text message and a hacker-produced email at George Washington University that urged Obama voters to show up on Wednesday were both exposed via the internet.
In battleground states like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio, the highest voter turnout in almost a century led to worries about a lack of ballots and slow lines. At South Carolina State University, a historically Black college, dozens of students were told that their polling places had changed. Student activists and the NAACP organized buses to get 32 students to the correct locations, but worried that at least 50 more were discouraged from voting.
Even Republicans circulated a memo detailing voting irregularities. Most of the incidents rose nowhere near the level of the kinds of voter suppression that Democrats faced in Florida in 2000 or Ohio in 2004. In fact, the first listed on the memo, an accusation of intimidation by alleged members of the New Black Panther Party at a polling place in North Philadelphia, was little more than a hilarious televised encounter between a Fox News reporter and a Black poll-watcher that seemed as if it was scripted for The Boondocks.
Republicans also explored allegations of double-voting by students in Georgia and media in Kansas who may have voted both in person and through absentee ballots, unfilled absentee ballot requests in New Mexico, missing military absentee ballots in Virginia, and calls in Pennsylvania with fake polling
But hours later, all this seemed moot.
As soon as the polls closed in California, all of the networks called a landslide victory for Barack Obama. The margin was nowhere near close. In the popular vote, Obama beat McCain by nearly 6 million.
Over 90% of African Americans voted in record numbers for Obama. But he also won among women, split the white working class, and picked up a much larger number of white male voters than John Kerry had in 2004. Obama's electoral college tally corresponded to his margin of victory among young people, Asian Americans, and Latinos: 2-1.
The election of the first biracial African American president in the history of the U.S. set off ecstatic celebrations all across the country. Twitter's server stopped for a few minutes, overloaded by messages. In Oakland, Berkeley, and Seattle, people poured into the streets and instant block parties sprung up as if it was the Bronx in the summer of '77. Crowds marched cheering to the White House. They filled Times Square as if it was New Year's Eve. They came 1 million strong into Grant Park to hear Obama deliver his victory speech, the very place where the Democratic Party collapsed in police riots 40 years ago.
For a small group of people in Pittsburgh, the victory began earlier that day, when an elections official restored Frye's right to vote and handed him a ballot. For Mosley, the League's National Political Director, a longtime community organizer and a veteran of the 2004 battle, it was a gratifying moment.
"The biggest thing I've seen today is the number of young African Americans from the hood that have never voted—teenage parents, the formerly incarcerated, just an incredible number of people voting," he said. "We're really seeing a sea change. The college students have been voting. Now we're seeing a movement among those who never did go to college. That could be monumental not only on the local level but the national level."
"Man, I'm happy as hell I get to vote," Frye told Mosley. "I'm just so happy to get my voice heard."
The victory would not just belong to Barack Obama, but to Loric Frye. "I'm hoping for change," Frye said. "I know it ain't gon' come today or tomorrow, but I'm hoping for change. I'm pushing for change."