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Advertise on the Tentacle

November 6, 2002

Voting At The Liberty Pole

Norman M. Covert

Thank goodness for Election Day. If you ever doubt that Frederick is a small town, go down to the Old Armory on Bentz and West Second Street on any given election/primary day. It is Americana at its most visible. Voting is not a chore, it’s a pleasure.

We’re certain that other polling places in the county are just as homespun and efficient as the Old Armory. The schools don’t have the same character and ambiance as the Old Armory and are just as efficient, but they don’t lend themselves to the town square atmosphere like the corner of Bentz and West Second.

Even the gaggle of signs touting candidates is tolerable and you can recognize the old-time residents of the city, they are gathered in moving groups at the perimeter of Memorial Grounds Park (and Graveyard) talking about anything and everything. Interesting, too, that this scenario helps one understand that in Frederick City we vote the candidate, the party takes the hindmost usually.

You’ll see long-time party stalwarts carrying signs of one candidate, while wearing stickers for candidates of the opposition party. This seems to confound the out-of-towners, brought in to work voters for statewide office candidates. These well meaning poll workers are certainly the odd-man-out as the meet-and-greet parade flows throughout the day.

At any given time during the day, you’ll see the old-time politicians, who once ruled their parties with surety, show up. You can count the graybeards with names like McClellan, Smelser, Byron, and Baker making their obligatory trip to assure candidates that all is well.

They talked about turnout – yesterday parking was at a premium and blamed on Republican voters; the graybeards rate the candidates and make their predictions; yesterday the conversation also touched on some local issues like Mayor Jennifer Dougherty’s latest public gaffs and how the members of the Board of Aldermen are confused about how to do their jobs.

They talked about the state deficit and one observer told the gathering his son had determined early on that he wouldn’t vote for a woman candidate. He just didn’t appreciate some of the local female candidates because they sounded like "bitchy women," he said. There were some nods, grins, and "don’t let them hear you say that" retorts.

There was Mary Alice Marks, who has never run for office, but has served Winchester Hall’s occupants for more years than we know. Her enthusiasm never wanes for her Democratic Party hopefuls and even the Republicans want a hug and a kind word from her as she stands guard briefly outside the massive armory doorway.

Mary Alice says she would never run for office, doesn’t want to, wouldn’t run if nominated, but, we suspect, probably would serve if elected. Her roots in local party politics are founded on her love of the city and county.

Everyone knows Alan Imhoff, an imposing transplant whose influence now spans from City Hall to Winchester Hall, where he took over the reins of the election office from long-time registrar Maxine Pratt several months ago.

Alan, who is retired from AT&T, seems to relish his place on the wooden floor of the Armory, gently reminding the candidates’ poll workers that they should leave the electioneering stuff outside when they come in to vote. You won’t see the same problems they have in Florida with Alan running the show. He will admit, though, that Maxine’s influence is still around.

My mother enjoyed the lively banter with Dick Wachter, who has handled the ballot management and verification in my precinct as long as I can remember. Dick made mother feel like a native telling a couple of tall tales about her son and then wondering why he hadn’t voted. Mother told him I was on my way and when my wife and I finally checked in, Dick pointed out that I was the last of the brood to vote.

The pleasure at the Old Armory includes the wonderful aroma of the vegetable soup prepared by the "ladies" for so many years and served by the ladle. Their food is part of the experience.

It is the personal touch that helps to make Election Day a must-attend social event. It is also different from voting in the primaries, in which many potential voters really see it as a time for the party faithful with names they never heard before and will only care if they are selected for the final ballot.

The ballots and the entire system seem to be fairly easy for a person with reasonable physical ability and intelligence, but help also is available. Several times it was mentioned that you had to vote both sides of the ballot, "now don’t forget!" just connect the arrow.

I confess I had the urge to write in Louise Snodgrass’ name even though she’s in District 4A and we are in District 3 and 3A. I suppose there are many voters who either out of confusion or just feel a sense of vinegar wrote in Louise’s name. It will be curious to find out how she did in her district. Louise remains the genuine person, whose small town credentials as burgess of Middletown put her in charge of the local Council of Governments. Here’s hoping she was more than a spoiler.

Each Election Day one will find locals who are beginning to get the urge to run for office. It was no different yesterday where we met no less than three who admitted they are considering a run for office. They were fact finding and excited by the hubbub surrounding the entire process. Once the virus gets you, you’re stuck with it. It may be that the magic of this piece of Americana is like the flame attracting the moth. Why else would someone spend a half-million dollars to get a $30K a year job?

We will be interested to see how the votes count up. For certain we’ll have friends who didn’t quite make it, others who are still celebrating their victories. Who can deny that no matter how big we have grown, Election Day at the Old Armory probably mirrors the scene 250 years or so ago. Don’t miss the next election!

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