Tonawanda News — I stood outside North Tonawanda City Hall before the sun rose Tuesday, shivering a little, checking the sky for signs of dawn. I’d left the house before my husband or even my kids were awake that morning, fueled by coffee and already energized by the historic nature of the day.
I wanted to see, on this hard-fought Election Day 2012, who would be there as the polls opened. Would there be lines? Would people be serious? Excited? Civil? Grumpy? This one seemed unlike any other of the nine presidential elections I’ve lived through ... nastier, more divisive, each side seemingly more inexplicable to the other. What would the atmosphere be like?
Inside, the election inspectors, including Judy Niemiec, prepared for the onslaught. Niemiec, who’s been serving as an inspector for three years now, said there’s been a lot to learn with the electronic voting machines and other changes.
“That’s why the four of us work together as a team,” she said. “But we’re ready. We’re ready.”
Sometimes I think the election inspectors, arrayed in their schools and churches and community buildings across Western New York and the United States as a whole, are my heroes. Long hours, a thankless job and constant new things to learn ... yup. Heroes.
The first person waiting to vote at City Hall was Jim Chiodo, a Korean War veteran. A morning person, he said that he’s often the first voter in line on Election Day.
“It’s my patriotic duty to do,” he said, “and I’m going to do it.”
From there, the influx was steady. Sheryl Fleming stopped by to vote before going to work.
“It’s going to be so close this year, and everybody’s vote is going to count,” she said. “I thought there would be lines already.”
Fleming said that she’d called all her friends and encouraged them to vote today.
“Four more years of what we’ve been getting ... I can’t take it,” she said. “If it hasn’t worked, I have to change it.”
Many people were casting votes before heading off to work or school. One of the earliest was Erin Robinson, a professor at Canisius College.
“I wanted to get here early. I was actually anticipating lines and a little bit of chaos,” she said. “I just really wanted to make sure my vote for president was cast, cast early and cast right.”
Robinson said that she voted for Democrats across the line, but wanted to stress the importance of voting at all.
“I hope people come out and vote, regardless of who they choose to vote for ... that they exercise that right,” she said.
The entire Scime family, including Daniel, 7, and Sophia, 9, stopped by to vote. Tara Scime said the children get school extra credit for voting with their parents.
“I think one of the most important reasons to vote is to teach our children,” she said. “It’s important to know you have a choice.”
“You have to have a reason,” he said.
By 7 a.m. at the City of Tonawanda High School polling place, things had slowed, but voting remained steady.
Carolyn Kirsch cast her ballot early and said that she was pleased to do so.
“I appreciate the fact that we get to vote here in the United States,” she said. “It’s the time of the year I feel part of the democracy we’re so fortunate to have.”
You can say what you will about the election Tuesday, thrilled or devastated by the results, or somewhere in between.
But for one day, after a race that’s torn the country apart, it brought it back together ... united in those orderly lines to the polls, and a respect for the “great experiment” of democracy.Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.