[US Elections Exchange ’14] Linda Rotunno: What counts on Election Day?

Fellows touring Lafayette County Precint 69 with alum Louis Perez

Australian election fellows with ACYPL alumnus Louis Perret (far left) and ACYPL CEO Linda Rotunno (far right) in Lafayette, Louisiana after visiting local polling stations for the 2014 midterm elections. 

Paul Tully, the brilliant political operative, used to remind us every day at the DNC…”Nothing counts but what happens on Election Day.”

I have worked in Democratic politics most of my adult life. I know what a successful campaign feels like and I certainly understand political fundraising. But Paul was right, it’s all about that day. This year, for the first time, I spent election day outside of Washington, DC, or my home state of Ohio. I was in the deep south – Lafayette, Louisiana – with a delegation of 7 Australians seeing elections through a new lens. We were hosted by Louis Perret, an amazingly kind and generous ACYPL alumnus who happens to be the clerk of court in Lafayette – the guy responsible for making certain elections go off without a hitch.

Lousiana election day breakfast of champions

Louisiana breakfast of champions courtesy of Rickey Meche’s Donut Kaliste Saloom.

We started our morning at the court house the way all good things in Louisiana begin…with awesome food – Meche’s donuts, Citizens coffee, and Boudin balls. Louis’ staff was already answering calls from around the parish with issues of varying degrees of complexity. He swore us in as “international election observers,” and then we piled (imagine 9 people – 3 big dudes) into his Yukon and headed to the first polling place. Throughout the day we visited schools and community centers where citizens were lining up to vote. The Aussies, coming from a country with compulsory voting laws where elections are administered by the national government, were surprised to learn of the low voter turnout and the grassroots nature of elections management.

Like many American communities, Lafayette remains racially segregated. The white and African American communities approach Election Day in different ways. We visited polling places where there were all white folks and places where there were only African- Americans. I must admit, I saw and heard things that made me uneasy. But I watched that day. This was democracy – messy and certainly not perfect – happening.

Election Day ended the way it began…with amazing food and kind company in the kitchen of Don’s Specialty Meats hosted by Sheriff Mark Cole, and a roomful of local businessmen. The Aussies drank beers and I ate the best crayfish étouffée and pecan pie I have ever had.

Linda Rotunno is the CEO of ACYPL

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