Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What it's like to vote Democratic in Squirrel Hill

Yesterday, Pittsburgh and I helped vote Rick Santorum out of the U.S. Senate. We also helped reelect Representative Mike Doyle, who was one of the very few Congressmen to vote against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

My polling place was at a Pittsburgh Housing Authority high rise for old folks and the disabled. Voting took place in what I think was the rec room on the third floor. While I was waiting for the elevator, I couldn’t help but notice the evidence of my neighborhood’s heavily Eastern European, especially Russian Jewish, population. Some of the great old-world surnames on the residence roster: Barbalat, Chesakov, Katsman, Kaufman, Klaynberg, Lampkin, Schetyn, Vasserman, Yerosh, Zak.

On the third floor, there was no line to vote, but I waited for my signature to be verified and my passport inspected by three ladies seated at a long table. From a little old man, I got a brief tutorial on the new touch-screen computer voting machines, which were no longer enclosed in a booth but had little blinders next to them, like you place on carriage horses so they don’t scare so easily. Voting was uncomplicated but I scare easily; I walked away very skeptical about the cyber-collection of the ballots. (Last time I voted was in the 2004 Presidential Election, and I was actually shaking while waiting in a long line at the Catholic school in Greenpoint. Some combination of thinking that George Bush might actually win, and that me screwing up the mechanics of my vote might be the deciding factor.)

The residents of the building used the opportunity to have a bake sale in between the elevator and the polling room. “A captive audience!” one resident explained. For fifty cents, you could get a frosted cupcake (chocolate OR vanilla), a piece of rugelach, a cabbage pierogi, or a cup of coffee. For a dollar you could get a kosher meat pastry (“cheicken”) or a ziplock bag with two homemade devil dogs. It seems the idea was that everyone in the building was to contribute: As I boarded the elevator to head back to the ground floor and my bus stop, an old man (moving slowly) handed off a still-hot pan of brownies, complete with pot holders, to one of the ladies who was setting plates out on the oil-cloth table covers.


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