Columbus, OH
The Ramada Inn at East Broad street was host to a shooting last night. Apparently, a man was shot “in the buttocks” through a screen window, before the assailant fled, leaving news networks to canvas expressions of shock and fear from out of town witnesses. They didn’t canvas me, as I slept through the whole affair.

I could venture out into the halls and lobby to discover more information about this extremely important public incident. But somehow I doubt that its of much importance to the GNN crowd. I’ll just say that, as each room has netting and a thick curtain in front of the window, either the shooter got lucky or the victim was actually mooning him through the glass and got well, he got what he deserved.

But enough editorializing. You may be wondering why I’m here, in Ohio, in October, as the presidential election approaches. Well, part of the answer is that I needed a break from London. The much meatier and interesting part is that I’ll be writing a few pieces about the election, I’m not sure how many or how detailed yet, but I’ll try to get my impressions of events down if I can.

And that turns out to be tricky. It’s easier to obtain a broad view of what people are saying, the controversies that they engender, world events, critiques from the Left, when you aren’t lost in the bubble of travel and lack for internet access 24/7. What you see from the ground doesn’t come with the ornaments that the media circus provides – it’s not all drama, all the time in Columbus, OH.

In fact, the most striking aspect of the politics of the place is the absence of obvious political commitment. There are few yard signs advertising Barack. There are more advertising various candidacies for the post of county Treasurer. The same held in Chicago, where I stopped for three days. And conversations on the buses, in restaurants and bars don’t revolve around this great contest.

As far as the real average “Joe” is concerned, this doesn’t seem to be such an epochal election. Still, the crowds flocking to see Obama belay such a notion. There genuinely is a surge in enthusiasm for the Democrat candidate. Or at least, there is a surge in desire to remove the incumbent party from office.

But in Columbus, that’s less evident to me than elsewhere. What I have seen is that the desire to make sure that the elections are fair and that electoral fraud is absent is stronger than ever. Video the Vote has a strong base here, running out of the offices of the Columbus Free Press. There will hopefully be tens of cameras trained on suspect precincts, a team of dispatchers and technicians  come election day.

Franklin County will be more closely monitored for fraud than it ever has been before (under the gaze of the two major parties. Video the Vote’s great strength is that it has no links with those behemoths and, if anything, leans towards smaller parties in the allegiance of its activists).

As one of VOV’s coordinators, the film-maker John Ennis, told activists yesterday, “there should be surveillance of polling places. We’re under surveillance everywhere else. That’s the joke of it.” Without filming the faces or choices of voters, VOV will set out to film the behavior of the organizers of the polls – usually representing the two major parties and, historically, a law unto themselves.

Columbus seems well served. Cincinnati is apparently doing fine. But up in Cleveland, there’s a major gap in activists and question marks over whether VOV can operate there on a useful scale. Cleveland is crucial as, in 2004, Cuyahoga country was host to a massive amount of manipulation, with the longest lines, huge numbers of challenges, understocking of precincts with voting machines and staff and the switching of votes on those machines which did exist from Kerry to Bush. It might not be an exaggeration to say that Cuyahoga was where George W. Bush won in 2004, as tens of thousands were effectively disenfranchised.

Though they might not realize it, the fate of millions around the world hinged on the decisions made by polling officials and presiding judges in northern Ohio, and the same looks like it might happen again. Obama is “*running 6 percent ahead*”://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/10/29/polls-show-mccain-not-making-up-ground-in-ohio-2/ of McCain in the latest polls. Ohio looks tight. Come election night, efforts like VOV may prove decisive in ensuring that votes do not get illegitimately “delivered” to the wrong recipient.

Anyhow, I’m off to check out of here (buttocks still intact, alas) and into the Holiday Inn downtown where, I’m trusting, the glass is thick and the coffee drinkable. Well, I drank the courtesy coffee in any case. It doesn’t pay to have too much pride in Ohio. I’m also going to try to head for beautiful Ross County in a few hours. If I pass the GOP’s style test, I’ll be able to witness a sermon from the diva of mass destruction herself, Sarah Palin.

You don’t pass up an opportunity like that when you’re on vacation.

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