Photos by Steven Devadanam for HouStoned Images Ltd., Ulmtd.
Just a little awkward, media-packed sign-in...

The Bell Hath Told

It's probably safe to say that no single voter in Houston will get this much dramatic media attention as he or she contributes to democracy today.

Ready to cast their votes, gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell and wife Alison arrived promptly at 10 a.m. at the McGovern-Stella Link library in Bellaire, escorted in a black Dodge Magnum (very sporty!). The moment they stepped out the car, TV cameras set upon them like paparazzi as they tried to walk into the library. As he strolled in, Bell chatted with reporters about why he waited till today to cast his vote.

...then a casual (awkward) wait at the back of the line...

"I'm sort of a traditionalist when it comes to voting," he said. "I encourage everyone to vote early in case something and interferes with something on election day, but Alison and I like to vote on election day — it kind of puts you in the spirit of the election."

Boy, does it. So what did he think of his chances?

...then at the front of the line...

"Traditionally, when people realize independent candidates can't win, voters start peeling off and going to candidates who can win, and recent polls have shown that I'm the only candidate in position to challenge Rick Perry. So we're hoping we can close the gap today."

"Who's your vote for governor?" I asked him.

"I'm thinking about voting for Chris Bell. I really like his ideas and really think he can get the state back on track."

Man, I had him pegged as a Kinky guy.

The Bells were then led into a crowded voting room, where voters looked on in surprise, curiosity and in some cases, in horror as 11 TV cameras and three print journalists invaded their space. "Wow, he's like a rock star," said a middle-aged lady. The rock star congressman and his wife signed up at a table, where they were again set upon by cameras. "They're everywhere," said Alison. Better get used to it, ma'am. If your hubby wins, 11 cameras ain't nothin'.

... and bam! Alison Bell votes, Chris Bell contemplates.

Then it was a quite awkward game of hurry up and wait, as the Bells sat and watched other citizens cast their vote. They slowly moved up the row of chairs as the lines thinned, trying not to look directly at the aforementioned 11 cameras and print journos. "The excitement mounts," Bell quipped to the reporters as we all watched the clocks, looked around, and hummed tunes as the minutes passed. An election judge barked at camera people to move as voters entered. "Knock some heads," said Bell in encouragement. Well, who says Chris Bell is weak?

Up next: Bell spills his vote, again!

Then, the much-anticipated moment: The Distinguished Gentleman from Houston votes. He and Allison rose and signed some paperwork, then made their way to the machines. Allison finished quickly (maybe she's a straight-ticketer?), while Bell took his time. Quite some time. "Hurry up, already," said one TV cameraman. Hey pal, ya can't rush democracy.

Finally, Bell looked about finished. (A TV cameraman and I pretended not to look over his shoulder as we looked over his shoulder to see who he voted for. I think he caught us in the act.) As he turned to leave, shutters whizzed and video cameras rolled. It was as dramatic as the final hours of 2004 presidential election — or at least as exciting when Howie makes a contestant deal.

Again, it was a slow walk out the parking lot. Some other reporter thought it would be cute to ask him who he voted for. (Please, dude, it's been done.) But Bell bit: "This Chris Bell guy has really resonated with me, everything he's saying, so he got my vote today."

He told reporters that he's now thinking about turnout. "If Democrats turn out here in Texas, as they're expected to all across the country, then there should be a lot of surprises tonight," he said. "I'm hoping that people who've been in the Strayhorn and Friedman camps will come on aboard today and we'll close the gap today and we'll take Texas in a whole new direction."

The climax: Bell has voted and is leaving the building.

Bell said that his campaign done "everything we possibly could do," and that he's "fought a great fight" and that he "hasn't left anything on the table."

And then, as quickly as he came, Chris Bell, newly appointed rock star, drove off into the sunset. Or maybe it was down the street. — Steven Devadanam

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