Obama vs. McCain: It all comes down to the juice boxes

CINCINNATI, OHIO — If Barack Obama is going to carry the Queen City of the West, it could come down to the juice boxes.

Long lines at poll sites are expected across this city, but nowhere are the lines expected to be longer than at precincts with high percentages of African-American and first-time voters — who are expected to come out in droves for Barack Obama.

Hence, the juice boxes, chips and bottles of water.

For the past few days, I’ve been tailing a band of Obama supporters — mostly Brooklynites led by Cincinnati native, now Park Slope resident, David Shenk and his wife Alex Beers — that has converged on Cincinnati to deliver it, Hamilton County and linchpin Ohio to the senator from Illinois. And with the action coming down to the wire, members of the team — better known as “The Graeter’s Brigade,” after the locally made super-premium ice cream that fuels the effort — spent a key hour on Monday being trained as “line managers” to anticipate problems that might occur in today’s voting.

Note the language — they’re not “poll watchers” or “canvassers,” but managers of what are expected to be epic queues at poll sites that are in pro-Obama turf.

As such the job description of an Obama line manager is simple: Do not let people get off that line.

But that one-item list of duties is deceiving, as the group found out at its training. It’s going to be hot on Tuesday, and it’s not as if the campaign is sending an icy cooler filled with sodas and spring water.

So Shenk and crew left that training center, with its collegiate, poster-covered walls, Obama “Hope” banners in boxes waiting for distribution, and half-eaten donuts everywhere, and drove straight to a supermarket to pick up victuals and beverages for suffering voters.

“We need them to stay on the line, and saying, ‘Look, this is a very important election and every vote counts’ only goes so far,” said Shenk, who last month helped raise $176,000 at an Obama fundraiser in DUMBO. “We’ll do whatever it takes to keep them there. I’d even break out my guitar and do Dylan — if that would help.”

Keeping people on line is just one challenge. Many polling places in Obama-leaning districts, for example, won’t have “poll watchers,” the partisans who stand at the main table to make sure that voters on both sides of the party chasm get to vote (or at least defend themselves from challenges to their voting status by the other party’s partisan poll watcher). Without poll watchers, the line managers will have an extra duty to watch for shenanigans (and then phone headquarters for backup if anything wrong happens).

Nonetheless, the Graeter’s Brigade “line manager” trainer, Pam Kiel, said there was no reason for worry.

“We think it’s going to be one big party in our precincts as people come out to vote,” she said. “This will be like a celebration.”

Most members of the Brigade (and this grizzled poll watcher had to agree) were more concerned. Elections are won and lost at the sign-in table, where, in Ohio, voters whose names aren’t in the book or don’t have the right ID, or are now using a married name instead of a maiden name or are merely challenged by a partisan, cast a “provisional” ballot — and Ohio leads the nation in the percentage of such ballots that never get counted as votes.

And an hour of training and a case of juice boxes isn’t going to change that.