Karen Heller: Some lessons emerge from election drama in Penna.

Lincoln students waiting at the Lower Oxford East precinct in 2008.
Lincoln students waiting at the Lower Oxford East precinct in 2008. (LAURENCE KESTERSON / For The Inquirer)
Posted: November 08, 2012

After all the drama over voter ID that could have disenfranchised black, poor, young, and old voters - an enormous swath of Philadelphia's electorate - the city flocked to the polls Tuesday and helped deliver Pennsylvania to the president. And Pennsylvania helped the president win reelection.

So six billion dollars and a couple of years devoted to the campaign, all to preserve, as David Gergen so aptly put it, "the status quo." Which is sort of the opposite of change and forward.

The more money spent, the more time and Tweets and polls and more polls, the more things stay the same.

Rare is the day that Philadelphia makes Fox News for art as well as politics, but Tuesday was that singular day.

A mural of Barack Obama at the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in the city's Lawncrest section was the backdrop for two voting machines. The scene became the epitome of voting impropriety most foul - #demshenanigans on Twitter, of course - resulting in a court order and the forced papering over of the president.

An indignant state GOP party chairman Rob Gleason said, "It is clear the Obama campaign has taken their campaign in the gutter to manipulate this election however they can."

Not the gutter, Mr. Gleason, but a place so much scarier: a school cafeteria.

Yes, if there is one thing that can sway voters in a division with 566 registered voters, only 27 of whom are Republicans, it would be a mural.

What else have we learned? That a folksy retired coal mine executive can spend $17 million supporting Pennsylvania television stations and his lust for a Senate seat, but not win the hearts of its citizens.

That we can stop being jealous of all the attention, and all that gorgeous campaign spending lavished on Ohio, our little neighbor to the West.

That we will have to adjust to a world with no political ads, no robocalls from Bill Clinton or Clint Eastwood (sans chair). That we will give up manically looking up Nate Silver's hourly analysis of the latest polls, because there won't be any.

Until Pennsylvania was declared for President Obama, Philadelphia election officials in this city - which has a huge Democratic registration advantage, including 196,000 new voters, in a swing state where the results appeared close - seemed to be in a panic over a lack of provisional ballots. For a few hours, the impossible seemed possible, that we missed the presence of longtime election czarina Marge Tartaglione, who ruled voting day with a salty tongue and an iron will for more than three decades, yet somehow managed to make the polls run on time.

But then the feeling passed.

A close election will make the electorate panic every time, especially the costliest, longest, most poll-driven campaign in history that's been marked by charges of voter fraud and efforts to enforce voter ID in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

On Tuesday, I went out to Lower Oxford Township in Chester County, the home of historically African American Lincoln University and the site of a voting debacle four years ago. Republican County commissioners had moved the voting location to a tiny, inconvenient community center off-campus, at Justice Thurgood Marshall's alma mater, where few students own cars and the overwhelming majority are Democrats in a county with more registered Republicans. In 2008, voters waited up to seven hours in the rain, some long after the polls closed, which became the basis of a federal lawsuit.

As a result of the settlement, students again voted on Lincoln's campus Tuesday on a day without incident, so much so that an Obama campaign legal observer from New York left Lincoln before lunch. So there's progress.

Excitement from voting for the first black president may have waned elsewhere, but many Lincoln students dressed in ties and carried placards, blasting Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye as many cast their first ballots.

"My grandmother was born in 1904 and voted for Obama, having never even thought she would vote for a black president," said Alexis Morgan, a senior. Her grandmother passed away in 2009 "so I feel like I'm carrying on the tradition for her."

DeWayne Walker Jr., student body president, helped register 1,000 new voters on campus. "We heard from upperclassmen about standing hours in the rain and who missed classes four years ago," he said. "Historically, we can't forget that people fought for our right to vote."

Yes, as recently as a few years ago.

Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter at @kheller.

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