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Posts Tagged ‘Election 2009’

The Numbers Game

How does a Republican candidate win in a Democratic district?  John McCain won approximately 38% of the vote in the 93rd district back in 2008.  Jim Gilmore only managed 28% in the same year.  George Allen captured approximately 45% of the vote in 2006.  Given that all of the percentages are below the statewide average, one could hardly call the 93rd a Republican friendly district.  Of the 13 precincts in the 93rd, what, if any, of the precincts are favorable to Republicans?  Looking back at past elections, George Allen narrowly won Palmer, narrowly lost Kiln Creek, and convincingly won both Watkins and Roberts B.  John McCain faired worse, only managing to win Watkins and Roberts B and not really in any danger of winning any others.  The district encompasses the two easternmost precincts of James City County and the northeast section of Newport News with the exception of the Saunders precinct, which is in the 96th.  For the record, the precincts in the district are:  Roberts A & B in James City County, and Epes, McIntosh, Reservoir, Richneck, a portion of Lee Hall, Windsor, Greenwood, Palmer, Kiln Creek, Deer Park, and Watkins in Newport News.  Of these, Delegate Hamilton won Roberts B, and Watkins, narrowly winning Deer Park, and a close loss in Roberts A. Given that the district trends Democratic, one might wonder how Delegate Hamilton was able to gain and hold onto power for so long.

The answer to this question has several parts.  First, one should recognize that incumbents have an inherent advantage over their opponents.  They have higher name recognition and presumably more accomplishments.  I would also argue that from what I saw, Delegate Phil Hamilton maintained a favorable rapport with the people of the 93rd, taking time to listen to his constituents and alerting them to his progress in Richmond.  The second is that the location of the 93rd has shifted over the years.  Although I cannot find data for how the 93rd looked back in 1988 when he was first elected, comparing it to the district in the 1990s, one can clearly see a shift.  Delegate Hamilton often referred to the 93rd as a “donor district”, meaning that the more Republican or conservative areas of this district had been given to other districts, presumably in the hopes of electing more Republican/conservative legislators.  Before the 2000 redistricting, the 93rd was further east.  It contained none of James City County and the following precincts in Newport News:  McIntosh, Reservoir, Richneck, Deer Park, Nelson, Palmer, Saunders, a small bit of Warwick, Beaconsdale, and South Morrison.  I should mention that the precinct known as Beaconsdale no longer exists.  According to the Newport News Board of Elections, the polling place was not handicap accessible, so it was absorbed into the Deer Park precinct.  What does all this mean, you ask?  Looking back at both the Allen and McCain elections, let’s assume the 93rd is in this old shape (including all of Warwick, no absentee ballots, and no write ins).  Do these candidates fair any better?  John McCain reaches 40%, Jim Gilmore improves to 29% and George Allen reaches 47%.  Although none win this old district, they do capture a higher percentage.

Let’s next consider the Governor’s race in the 93rd.  While the delegate’s race was 54% in favor of Robin Abbott, McDonnell won about 52-53% in that same district depending on the source.  He handily wins the precincts of Palmer, Kiln Creek, Deer Park, Watkins, Roberts A and B, narrowly wins Richneck, and barely loses Windsor.  Now why did he do better than Phil Hamilton?  Was he better known?  Did he run a better campaign?  Was his opponent easier to beat? (Answer:  yes!) Or was it that he wasn’t tarred by a scandal?  For comparison’s sake let’s run McDonnell in this old 93rd.  Does he similarly get a one to two point bump in the polls as the other candidates did?  Indeed the trend holds true with McDonnell gathering about 54% in this relic district.  However, applying these numbers to Phil Hamilton does not result in victory.  While it raises his percentage from 45.6 to around 47.6%, and dropping his opponent likewise, Robin Abbott would still win with a slim 51.94%.

So what should we take home from the numbers game?  Although the 93rd has undeniably gotten worse for Republicans since redistricting, it is possible, although difficult, for Republicans to win here.  In a great Republican year like 2009, Bolling ran about even and Cuccinelli won 51%.  The statistics clearly prove that if Delegate Hamilton was able to run alongside Bob McDonnell (or Cuccinelli, and maybe even Bolling) and capture all of the same voters, he would be returning to the House of Delegates next year.  Unfortunately ODU and the resulting aftermath dashed any hopes for this scenario.

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The Opposition

As stated in Part II of this series, in the 93rd, we had opposition from a number of sources.  Not only did we have to contend with the Robin Abbott campaign, but also were attacked by the Democratic Party of Virginia, various interest groups, and Steve Shannon.  However, the focus of this piece will be the Robin Abbott campaign.  On October 28, Not Larry Sabato wrote, “Robin Abbott has run a great campaign, and Phil Hamilton is going to jail no matter what the result of this election is.”   I don’t know how involved and informed he was about that race, but I completely disagree.  As far as I could tell, the Robin Abbott campaign was not well run.  Now I know the temptation to apply the lens of the victor to this situation; the Abbott campaign won so it must have been well run, but having a good deal of first hand experience, I would beg to differ.

First of all, it was difficult to determine what was the central message the Robin Abbott campaign hoped to convey to the voters.  Other than her life story, which I heard multiple times in debates, campaign literature, and at rallies, they never seems to latch onto a key issue or position.  Given the ODU situation, obviously ethics reform would be fertile ground, and although it did come up from time to time, it was certainly not an overriding theme.  The Abbott campaign did bring up the issues of transportation, health care, and education; however for each issue they were unable to best Delegate Phil Hamilton.

Now consider the debates.  During the final months of the campaign Phil Hamilton and Robin Abbott were slated for a series of five debates or forums, four in Newport News and one in Williamsburg.  Unfortunately for the Abbott campaign, Phil Hamilton is a polished and professional debater who is well versed in just about every issue facing the state and community.  Below, in two segments, you will find the first twenty minutes of the League of Women Voters debate in Williamsburg on 10/14/09.  I wish I could have provided the entire debate, however my camera ran out of memory.  While Phil Hamilton offered clear examples of his work in the legislature and his plans for the future, Robin Abbott was more general and vague.

Although there were two more debates scheduled after the Williamsburg debate, one with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the other at Robin Abbott’s alma mater of CNU, both the candidate and the campaign failed to appear.  Even though losing a debate is unquestionably detrimental to the campaign, I think an even greater failure is to not even show up.  The debate organizers obviously spent considerable effort in creating, moderating, and publicizing the event.  How disrespectful is it to them and their time?  Fortunately for the Abbott campaign, the local media didn’t call foul on them.

What about coordination between the Abbott campaign and other related efforts?  While going door-to-door, it was a very rare occurrence to find Abbott literature with either Deeds or Democratic ticket information.  But why wouldn’t they work together?  It is a democratic favored district.  After all, Barack Obama won the 93rd district by a convincing margin losing only the precincts of Watkins in Newport News and Roberts B in James City County.  Although the numbers are not precise, if we ignore absentee ballots and include all of the Lee Hall precinct, Obama won 17735 to McCain’s 10838.    Now maybe you would argue that Deeds was a weak candidate (which he certainly was).  Even still, if Democratic volunteers and staff delivered both Abbott and top ticket lit together, think of the time that they could save.  Think of how many more houses they could cover.  Even though they shared office space in city center, they apparently didn’t combine efforts.  Compare this decision with the Hamilton/RPV campaign.  Except for the brief period of troubles, the Hamilton campaign handed out McDonnell materials and the RPV did likewise.  Does that mean the two campaigns were joined at the hip?  Certainly not…it just made commonsense to work together for the betterment of both.  Even though I’m sure that seeing Hamilton lit together with McDonnell lit may have cost a vote or two to one side or the other, I’d easily wager that it garnered far more benefit to both.

From what I both heard and witnessed, the Abbot campaign struggled for volunteers throughout the season.  I offer the following pictures for an example.  The first two are from the Denbigh day parade of September 19.

Denbigh Days Volunteers Hamilton

The parade of white shirts are folks dressed in Phil Hamilton for Delegate attire.  Now compare that number to the Abbott supporters in the next picture.

Denbigh Days The Abbott Campaign

The simple truth is that few people were truly excited about the Abbott campaign.  Rumor has it that they had to pay people to go door to door for them.  The next picture is of the Newport News Fall Festival of 10/4/2009, one month before the election.  Beside our Republican tent sat the Democrats.  Throughout most of the festival, their tent was empty.  No one was there to handout information, yard signs, or the like.  You could feel the electricity in the air!

Democratics Fall Festival

For the reasons of no coherent campaign message, a series of lackluster and no-show debates, poor coordination, and low volunteer recruitment, is why I believe the Abbott campaign was not well run.  Now maybe I’m completely wrong about my assessment.  Several weeks ago I sent an email to Delegate-elect Abbott offering her the opportunity to talk about the campaign on this website.  As of this posting, I have gotten no reply.  If that changes, I’ll let you know.

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Searching for Volunteers

During the campaign my gmail away message often read, “searching for volunteers”.  One simple truth to campaigning is that you can always use more volunteers.  Another one is that recruiting volunteers is not an easy task.  Volunteer recruitment essentially requires convincing a person to do something that he or she was not planning on doing, actively promoting the campaign.  You want a bumper sticker?  Take one…but while you’re here, can you make some phone calls?  You call yourself a conservative?  Then come door-to-door with us today!

By comparison, the Ron Paul campaign was a whole different ball of wax.  Realizing the importance of his candidacy, voters independently created meetup groups to organize and mobilize.  One didn’t have to uncover every rock searching for volunteers for these meetup groups were an ample supply of eager recruits.  However, unlike traditional volunteers, meetup groups were far more resistant to campaign authority. You didn’t have to convince them to volunteer; instead you had to guide them to work with the campaign in proven and productive ways.  Sometimes it was a bit like herding cats.

So where is a good place to look for volunteers?  How about the city and county Republican committees?  After all, these people have shown at least a marginal level of interest and commitment.  Sadly, committees are not a good source of volunteers.  First of all, the average age of committee members are much higher than your average age of volunteers.  Once you reach seventy years old, you’re much less likely to be physically able to go door-to-door.  Second, some people have the mistaken impression that committee membership is sufficient involvement to elect like-minded candidates.  How many undecided voters can you reach in a committee meeting?  Now don’t think that I must hate committees just because I can’t wring them dry for volunteers.  Certainly not!  They are indispensable and many committee leaders are the hardest working, most motivated, and most dependable people you will ever meet.  Seek out the committees for help, but if your search begins and ends there you will be woefully short of help.

Regardless of what most people will tell you, just about everyone has free time that they can devote to the campaign.  Unfortunately, politics is not a high priority for a lot of the working class.  Perhaps they have family concerns, issues with their jobs, or maybe they are jaded and don’t feel that their efforts will have much of an impact on the election.  Therefore, it is best to find a younger demographic, the college and high school students.  I immersed myself in politics during my high school years and spent many an afternoon, evening, and weekend at the local headquarters.  Drawing from the 2006 election, no group worked harder or made a greater impact than the JMU College Republicans.  They selflessly donated vast amounts of time to re-elect Bob Goodlatte and George Allen.  If every CR group across the state were as motivated as JMU was then, imagine what we could accomplish.  With that experience in mind, I had high hopes for the college students of the 93rd.  Now there aren’t any universities within the boundaries of the 93rd, but there are two in neighboring districts:  William & Mary in the 64th, and Christopher Newport in the 94th.

As a William & Mary alumni and a former W&M CR, I eagerly sought help from the WMCRs.  I first met these folks at the annual activities fair, a place where student groups recruit new blood from the incoming freshmen class.  The leadership seemed enthusiastic to be of assistance and we slated Delegate Hamilton to speak at their first meeting.  Several days before the meeting, the ODU bomb dropped.  In truth, the news broke earlier, but I guess it reached the WMCRs then.  As a result, they rescinded our invitation.  I was crestfallen.  I wrote email after email and made many phone calls in hope of restoring their favor.  None proved successful.  Although in retrospect, it may have been foolish, I regarded the William & Mary snub as a great failure, my great failure.  This memory lurked within my conscience throughout the remainder of the campaign.  Once I made uneasy peace with the situation, I read more troubling news out of my alma mater.  In the September 23 issue of The DOG Street Journal, the online publication brought this matter into the public eye.  “There is one local race, Democrat Robin Abbott versus Republican Phil Hamilton for the 93rd District’s Delegate that only the Young Democrats – not the College Republicans – are involved in.” But the article didn’t stop there, oh no.  Further on, the chairman of the WMCRs weighed in.  “’Because of the allegations against Phil Hamilton, we have decided to stay out of that race,’ said Chappell. ‘That was a tough decision for us, but we thought that was in our best interest. We researched that extensively; I talked to the campaign manager. Bob McDonnell has asked him to resign, pretty much every major statewide official [h]as asked Delegate Hamilton to resign. I hope he’s cleared of these allegations, but as long as they’re on the table and they seem pretty credible, we decided to stay out of this one.’”  I could write a good bit about what I thought of this slight, but I’ll leave you to draw the conclusions here.

On the other hand, the Christopher Newport College Republicans were a great boon to the campaign.  The walked, they talked, they attended events.  Although the group never showed up in massive numbers, the constant dedication offered by their chairman and a handful of others was extremely helpful and encouraging.  Both the campaign and myself owe a debt of gratitude to CNUCRs.  Thank you, Cole, and thank you, CNU!  May your group flourish and continue to recruit motivated and hardworking leaders.

But let’s not forget about the high school students, shall we?  During the final weeks and months of the campaign, students from the local high schools trickled in on Saturdays and weeknights.  Although Denbigh Baptist provided the most, they came from just about every local high school in the 93rd and neighboring districts.  Unlike my days at Harrisonburg High, many classes now require their students to be politically active.  Each student in a government class had to volunteer a certain number of hours.  Personally I think the idea is great.  By immersing yourself in politics at an early age, before you can even vote, I think you build a far greater appreciation for the government and civic involvement.  With such embedded ideals, one is far less likely to see voting as a burden as far too many these days do, but as sacred right and a duty to be taken seriously.

The last point I want to make about volunteers in the 93rd concerns competition.  Unlike previous campaigns with which I have dealt, the Hamilton campaign had to compete with not only fellow delegate races, but with the McDonnell, Bolling, Cuccinelli, and RPV efforts as well.  It became a constant struggle to secure volunteers into the Hamilton camp before they pledged themselves to another race.  Although there was some overlap between statewide and delegate races, I still would have preferred far greater coordination.  There were Hamilton volunteers, there were RPV volunteers, and, for the most part, they remained in these separate camps.  Although you can never have enough volunteers, having been the last full-time staffer brought into the Newport News office, I felt that I had gotten too late a start in the volunteer recruitment game.  The RPV had snatched up  many choice volunteers before I arrived.  As such, I felt that I was constantly behind the eight ball.

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ODU

The sticky situation with Old Dominion University was a constant thorn in the side of the campaign.  If you will recall from my post on Oct 20, I didn’t want to create a “macaca moment” for the campaign as a result of this blog.  Unfortunately ODU became that very “macaca moment”.  If you are unfamiliar with this term, watch this segment from the Allen campaign.  It is a single comment or issue detrimental to the campaign that is repeated ad infinitum.  Like leprosy, if left untreated it can hideously disfigure the campaign and cause the public to view the candidate as an undesirable outcast.  I

f you will allow me to return to 2006 for a moment, I don’t believe that comment should have cost George Allen his seat, as he was a good legislator and governor.  I just wish that the issue could have been resolved quickly and completely and not allowed to fester.

But let’s return to the issue at hand.  I’m not going to exhaustively go into the ins and outs of the situation, as I’m sure there are many other blogs who have already done so.  The basic information is as follows:  Several years ago Delegate Hamilton secured funding for a teacher training center at Old Dominion University.  A bit later, the university offered Delegate Hamilton a part time $40,000 position at the university.  Was it a quid pro quo agreement?  Or was it a legitimate hiring practice?  It was a question that would continually haunt the campaign.  Once the situation came into the public eye, Delegate Hamilton resigned from his position and offered an apology for creating the perception of impropriety.  What else could the campaign and candidate have done?  Given his extensive background in the Newport News School system, I believed that his job was appropriate.  After all, I wouldn’t work for a person or organization I thought was unethical.  You have to wonder though, if the ODU issue was such a sordid outrage, why wasn’t it brought to light several years ago when it happened and not when it was politically advantageous, during an election?

When I learned of the issue, I knew that it would be a strong talking point for the Democrats.  After all, our opponent, Robin Abbott was not well known.  By comparison, Delegate Hamilton, as a 21-year incumbent, had a massive name ID advantage.  It served as a perfect opportunity for the Democrats to paint Phil Hamilton in a negative light, a problem in need of removal.  What I didn’t know, however, was that other Republican candidates and the Republican Party of Virginia itself would use the issue against us.  While drinking iced tea after a lengthy day of campaigning, I was shocked to hear that both Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling called upon Delegate Hamilton to resign.  It was troubling news indeed.  Although I didn’t agree with their decision, it did make some political sense.  As they were both running for statewide office, they did not want this scandal to be used against them too.  By comparison, I much preferred Ken Cuccinelli’s approach to the issue.  He thought the question as to Delegate Hamilton’s fate should be left to both the voters and the House Ethics Committee.  As a result of his stance, in Hampton Roads, Steve Shannon, Cuccinelli’s opponent, spent more time attacking Hamilton than he did Cuccinelli. Believe it or not, what caused me the most concern was RPV Chairman Pat Mullins’ similar condemnation.  Although perhaps less damaging politically (certainly Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling command much higher statewide publicity), it worried me greatly. I reserve a very high level of respect for the state party, much higher than the national party or most other political organizations and to suffer their wrath made me begin to doubt.  About the same time, the RPV removed Delegate Hamilton’s name from the party website as a candidate thus placing him in the same ostracized category as Catherine Crabill.  The reaction from voters in the 93rd was immediate but mixed.  Believe it or not, some voters returned their McDonnell yard signs as a symbol of protest for “throwing Hamilton under the bus”.  Others sent angry letters or phone calls to the RPV.   The RPV placated this discontent by reinstating Hamilton’s name to the list of official candidates.  On the other side of things, although far less vocal, some party activists agreed with the decision of McDonnell, Bolling, and Mullins and withdrew their support from the campaign.  As I’ll be discussing soon, it was this discontent which cost the campaign dearly.  By contrast, Republican delegates from neighboring districts, Brenda Pogge (96th) and Glenn Oder (94th) rallied behind Delegate Hamilton.  In addition, during the final days of the campaign, Representative Wittman showed up at headquarters to offer his support.  At the end of the day, neither standing with or against Phil Hamilton cost any other candidate his or her position.

On Election Day itself, while working at one of the precincts, I had the opportunity to speak to our opponent, as she was always called.  Was it harmful to the campaign to call her by her name, Robin Abbott?  We discussed a handful of subjects and I brought up ODU.  She mentioned how she didn’t want the ODU situation to dominate the election and, in general, I think her campaign stuck to that plan.  For all the literature that the Abbott campaign paid, I don’t recall seeing a piece focusing mainly on ODU.  The same could not be said, however, for direct mailings created by the Democratic Party of Virginia, the Virginia Education Association, and other related groups.  Several times a week, these organizations would bombard the district with literature slamming Delegate Hamilton over ODU.  Rather than highlight anything positive about Robin Abbott, far more frequently they would find some guilty-looking picture of Delegate Hamilton, add a picture of a hand in a cookie jar or innocent school children and bam, instant sensationalism.  Don’t vote for this guy, he’s a crook…a creep…a bad guy!  Negative campaigning at its finest. The whole affair was rather like a scab.  Just as soon as you would think the issue healed and forgotten, it would be torn open again and exposed to the open air.  It was 2006 all over again.  How can you win in such an environment?

The bottom line is this:  I am convinced that apart from the ODU scandal Delegate Hamilton would have easily won reelection.

Check back for Part III.

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An Introduction

2009 was a busy election year in the state of Virginia.  Not only did we elect a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General, but we also elected one hundred members to the House of Delegates and numerous other city and county officials.  In this season, I worked in the 93rd House district, an area comprising the northwest portion of the city of Newport News as well as the eastern most portion of James City County.  On the middle peninsula, there were four competitive house races: the 64th, the 91st, the 93rd, and the 94th.  The 64th pitted longtime Democratic incumbent Bill Barlow against the Republican Stan Clark.  The 91st was a three-way struggle between Republican incumbent Tom Gear, Democratic Sam Eure, and the Republican leaning Poquoson mayor Gordon Heslel.  The 93rd featured Republican Phil Hamilton versus the Democratic attorney Robin Abbott.  Rounding out the bunch, Democrat Gary West took on Republican Glenn Oder in the 94th.  There were other delegate races too such as Delegate Pogge’s, but as these candidates ran uncontested, there isn’t too much to talk about concerning them.

Over all, 2009 proved to be a smashing success for the Republicans statewide.  They won all three top ticket seats as well as numerous pickups in the House of Delegates.  Of course not every Republican candidate won, but the party as a whole suffered only two net losses.  The first was the 52nd, where ousted RPV chairman Jeff Frederick was not seeking re-election.  The second was the 93rd.

Throughout the next series of posts on the Virginia Conservative, I’ll share with you my thoughts and impressions concerning this potentially surprising and heated race as we seek to discover how a 21-year incumbent loses in an otherwise stellar Republican year.

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Now that the dust has pretty well settled (and I’ve gotten a bit of sleep), here are my thoughts concerning Election Day.  Overall, it was a sweeping victory for Republicans as the Grand Old Party claimed all three statewide races, a feat last achieved in 1997.  Bob McDonnell will be our new Governor.  Bill Bolling will remain our Lt. Governor for another four years, and Ken Cuccinelli soon will be our Attorney General.  In addition, Republicans made further inroads in the House of Delegates picking up seats in districts 3, 21 (depending on the recount), 23, 32, 34, 51, 67, and 83.  Although I would have liked to see a few more pickups, especially in 64 and 100, Republicans as a whole did quite well.  Even the party-shunned Catherine Crabill picked up 47.98% of the vote.  Now the day was not a complete blowout in favor of the GOP.  With all the successes, Republicans did suffer two net losses: in 52 failing to retain retiring Delegate and former RPV chair Jeff Frederick’ seat and in 93 with the loss of the twenty-one year incumbent Phil Hamilton.  According to my math, that means a gain of six seats in the hundred-member chamber.

The reason for the Democrats failure was that none of the statewide Democratic candidates succeeded in motivating their base or attracting independents.  Creigh Deeds lost by 17 ponts!  Moving down the ticket, a 13-point win for Bolling and 15-percentage point win for Cuccinelli further illustrates this point.  Although I don’t believe these results are as far reaching as to be used to determine the next presidential race three years from now, they do show a growing dissatisfaction with our current President and Congress, as well as the Democrats failure to market their brand.

Elsewhere, somewhat surprisingly, Chris Christie knocked off veteran Jon Corzine for New Jersey Governor.  Then we have Bill Owens victory in New York 23, which was one ray of sunshine for the Democrats in an otherwise poor showing in both Virginia and New Jersey.  Personally, I’m very disappointed with that result, but New York politics is a fairly alien concept to us here in Virginia.

Congratulations to Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling, and Ken Cuccinelli.  May the three of you, along with the General Assembly, and our other officials govern the affairs of our state wisely.

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The big day is today.  Election Day has come at last.  Assuming my automatic timing is correct, polls are just now opening across the commonwealth.  So get out there and vote. If you don’t, and your side doesn’t win, you have no room to complain.  I’ll accept no excuses.  Although I’m many miles away from the 26th district right now, I voted absentee.  It wasn’t hard.  Our state needs strong, conservative leadership which is why we need to elect Bob McDonnell as our Governor, re-elect Bill Bolling our Lt. Governor, and Ken Cuccinelli as our Attorney General.  In addition, we must increase the number of conservatives in the House of Delegates.  So don’t wait until five minutes before seven to vote.  Make time.  Vote now.  It’s worth it.  Although separated in many cities and counties, tonight we will celebrate victory as one.

As a side note, I’m pleased to announce that The Virginia Conservative has passed the 10,000 views mark!  Thanks for joining me so far.  I’m looking forward to the road ahead.

Oh yeah…one last thing…vote!

For liberty with responsibility!

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