As Mitt Romney’s and Newt Gingrich’s fates hung in the wind, eight wild turkeys marched up to a polling station in West Rock. Nary a human was in sight.
The turkeys were a surprise. The absence of voters wasn’t.
The scene was the Clarence Rogers School in the shadow of West Rock. It is one of two polling places in New Haven’s 30th ward. It is one of 32 polling stations open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday for the Republican presidential primary.
All 32 are open because state law requires it—even though few voters are expected to come to the polls. Only 898 New Haven Republicans voted citywide in the last Republican presidential primary, in 2008. And that was a real primary.
A grand total of one voter came to the polls at the Clarence Rogers School polling station the last time the Republicans held a presidential primary in 2008. And that was an exciting year compared to this year’s primary—because people were actually campaigning. This year the Republican campaigns themselves aren’t taking Connecticut’s primary seriously. That’s because the primary season has in effect ended, with Mitt Romney crowned the inevitable nominee. His strongest challenger, Rick Santorum, remains on Connecticut’s ballot, but he has dropped out of the race. (Registrars of Voters Sharon Ferrucci and Rae Tramantano appealed to the secretary of the state to allow them to shrink the number of polling stations. The answer: State law prohibits it. Click here to read about all that.)
Even in 2008 only person voted at Clarence Rogers School. All day. While four poll workers spent 16 hours waiting. (Seven others submitted absentee ballots before primary day.)
Nevertheless, four brave souls were ready at 6 a.m. sharp once again Tuesday, just in case a living breathing Republican might happen by. Following a blow-by-blow account of how the vigil unfolded throughout the morning and your tax dollars went to work.
4:45 a.m. Ward Moderator Pat Solomon (pictured) arrives at the Rogers gymnasium, the location for the alleged voting. She brings with her a stack of ballots. Hope triumphed over experience: The registrars gave Solomon 20 ballots, just in case 20 times as many people vote than did in 2008. The portion of the ward covered by this polling place has 493 registered Democrats, 30 registered Republicans, 391 “others.” The neighborhood consists primarily of African-Americans who live in public housing.
5:30 a.m. Solomon’s three coworkers arrive: Cynthia N. Rogers, who lives in the ward on Brookside Avenue; Toni Nixon, and Nadine Mangum. They set up the machines and tables for people to vote.
6 a.m. The three coworkers raise their hands as Solomon administers an oath: “Do you solemnly swear/affirm that you will faithfully discharge according to the law your duties as elected officials to the best of your ability; and that you will serve in this election or primary as the case may be as an official completely impartial with respect to any candidate or any political party; so help you God?”
Then the four women hold hands. They pray—not for voters, but for a calm day with smiles, with no bickering.
Meanwhile eight wild turkeys strut toward them. The turkeys pass defiantly on the grass past a sign declaring in big letters that no electioneering may take place within “75 feet” of the poll entrance. The turkeys angle past the entrance. They don’t come in.
6:20 a.m.“Still no voters,” Toni Nixon remarks. A long day and evening loom. Polls close at 8 p.m.
The women start talking about local officials’ desire to consolidate polling places in Republican primaries. New Haven’s GOP town chairman had suggested having everyone vote at the municipal office building at 200 Orange St.
That wouldn’t make sense, because it’s hard to park at 200 Orange, Nixon offers.
Solomon suggests putting the polls at senior centers.
Or perhaps consolidate the polls at a location with lots of parking, like the Hillhouse Field House, Nixon offers.
“People are afraid of Hillhouse,” Solomon responds. “Maybe the library?”
Hard to park there, Nixon says.
6:30 a.m. Toni Nixon opens the door to find a visitor! She’s not sure what kind of visitor. It’s a large animal. Nixon has heard of coyotes roaming the neighborhood. Turns out this is no coyote, but a large orange cat.
6:45 a.m.: Nixon whips out a tomato basil artisan bagel from the Dunkin Donuts on Fitch Street. Nixon proclaims the bagel tasty.
7:15 a.m. The crew has something to do: Fill out payroll forms so they can get paid. Nixon (pictured), the ballot clerk, will receive $135 for her 16 hours of work; Mangum, a checker, $140; Rogers, the machine tabulator, $130; and moderator Solomon $350.
7:30 a.m. Besides being lonely, it’s also chilly in the Rogers gym. The crew has propped open the door for any possible voters. Custodian Lamont Barham shows up with a solution: he uses duct tape to prop open the latch. The door’s closed; the poll workers warm up.
9:30 a.m. Your reporter risks missing a real-live voter at the polls to go knock on the door of the one human who actually showed up for the GOP presidential primary four years ago. Thomas Marchitto is his name. He lives at the Mountain View condos off Springside Avenue. He answers the door, opens it a crack. He appears to still be in his pajamas. “You’re a star,” I tell him. “You’re the only person who voted last time.” “I’ll be there,” Marchitto promises, a twinkle in his eye.
10:15 a.m. Still no sign of any voters. A Brennan/Rogers school phys ed teacher, James Riccitelli, shows up instead, hoola hoops in tow. He considers having a special-ed class exercise in the room. Then he changes his mind, decides to hold class outside. “Thanks for letting us use your gym,” Solomon tells him.
10:20 a.m. Lunch negotiations begin. Consensus quickly develops around pizza. The question on the floor: Pizza from where? Ernie’s gets a nomination. Modern gets a nomination. So does Pizza House on Howe Street. “Pizza House is the bomb!” Nixon argues.
10:24 p.m.The pizza primary is interrupted by ... the GOP presidential primary! A woman walks in. Her name is Patricia Meyer. She’s a house-call veterinarian on her way to a job. She’s here to vote! She fills her ballot and reveals her choice: Mitt Romney. The betting money is that her candidate will prevail.
10:26 It’s a crowd! In walks none other than Thomas Marchitto, dressed now in a grey silk shirt and matching trousers and smelling of cologne. He’s here to vote, too.
Marchitto’s not revealing his choice of candidate. But the retired retail manager has some suggestions for the crew.
“It’s awfully dark in here,” he tells Solomon. Indeed, two-thirds of the lights in the gym appear not to be working. Solomon follows up by moving the portable voting stations into better light.
Marchitto reflects on why so few people vote here. “I guess people don’t think their vote counts,” he says. “I’ve always been taught it’s very important. Not to express it is very foolish—it’s one of our liberties and we’re still fighting for it.”
10:40 a.m. The polling station is a ghost town again. “All we’ve got to do is wait seven more hours for two more voters,” quips Nixon. “Every vote counts.”
10:45 a.m. The women start discussing their favorite westerns and TV shows.
10:55 a.m. It becomes clear that Nixon loves The Beverly Hillbillies. “I’m going to take you way back—to Popeye,” Solomon offers. “When we had spinach, why didn’t we get muscles?”
11 a.m. With no voters to attend to, and no sign of any coming, the women continue bonding. Solomon speaks of how her father was stationed in Hiroshima after World War II. A Japanese family befriended him, gave him a Samurai sword, which the family still has. Nixon speaks of how she is dealing with valuables from her mom’s estate.
11:25 a.m. Talk turns to favorite children’s games like “Knock You Off A Cliff” and to reminiscences of Savin Rock Park.
11:50 a.m. Special ed teacher Jeffrey Summers comes in to ask if he can vote here. He’s not sure of his registration. Solomon calls downtown, learns that he last registered in a different neighborhood as a Democrat. “You have to be restored,” she says, directing him 200 Orange St.
12:05 p.m. We have a winner! The call goes out to ... Pizza House. One large sausage and mushroom bacon pizza on the way. As for more voters, none appear in sight. On the other hand, the polling place’s turnout has already doubled from 2008. And almost eight hours remain before the polls close.