In Dixwell, voting, making history

At 4:30 p.m. at the Learning Academy on Dixwell Avenue, a line of 10 people waiting to vote stretched out the door.

A young girl’s voice filled the air: “I want to vote.” The girl, 3-year-old Mya, was not able to cast a ballot.

Those standing in queue echoed the word “historic” referring to the election. The polling place, the Learning Academy, located in Dixwell, is part of the primarily black Ward 21. The notion of electing the nation’s first black president contributed to the high turnout, but most voters said issues that were more important than race brought them to the polls.

Still, voters in Dixwell said they were voting Obama, citing the need for change.

“This is one of the largest turnouts I’ve seen since JFK,” said Willie Greene, who lost his race Wednesday for state’s 94th House district. “JFK’s message transcended color; I hear that same message when I listen to Obama. He brings a real message of hope.”

Greene pulled up in a black Jaguar at 4:30 p.m. with his mother to cast his ballot, and both he and his opponent and later victor in the race Democrat Gary Winfield, stood outside the polls to talk to the voters, many of which said they would be exercising their right to vote for the first time.

For some of the residents interviewed, the economy was cited as a primary issue in the election, and some people on the scene pointed out a stark contrast between Republican and Democratic economic agendas.

“Bush and Cheney are the only ones making money right now,” said Bill Alexander, who traveled from West Hartford to canvass outside the polls here. “Everyone else is suffering.”

But not every voter was voting for the first time: Joseph Gabriel SOM ’10, who was voting in Dixwell, said although this year’s election will set precedents, each presidential race is “equally important.”

At 5 p.m., three hours before the polls closed, 1,106 of the 1,935 registered voters in the ward had cast their ballots. Poll workers and people canvassing outside the Learning Academy said it was the busiest election day they could remember.

“I have been canvassing here for 40 years, and this is the busiest I have ever seen it,” Alexander said, as he handed out fliers touting the Democratic candidates.

But the high turnout at the Learning Academy did not cause any major problems, and the Dixwell site did not have the long waits afflicting other polling places. Dixwell had nine poll workers to check voters in and six privacy booths for voters to cast their ballots.

Vivian Hilton, the moderator of the ward, said there was a minor hiccup when one of the scanners that counts votes started to refuse to accept ballots. Ballots were placed in a lock-box and counted after the scanner was fixed.

Nailed to a tree on the sidewalk outside the school was a sign demarcating the 75-foot radius from the polls that canvassers were not permitted to cross. Just beyond that point eight people, Alexander included, stood handing out materials telling voters to vote Democratic — and pressing people to vote “No” on the constitutional convention ballot question. There were no Republican canvassers.

As dusk began to fall, canvassers held their posts outside the school, stopping only briefly to watch a tan minivan drive by. Four preteens hung out its windows, screaming “Go Obama.”

At the Dixwell polls, residents of all ages took something away from the historic Election Day. Mya’s father, Steven, said he brought Mya with him so she could see the democratic process in action.

Fifteen years from now, she will be able to participate in it.

Erica Cooper contributed reporting.

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