Scotch-Irish a lonely voting outpost

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NEEDMORE ó Within 5 minutes of arriving at the Scotch-Irish voting precinct Tuesday, I was eating Gold Miner’s Pie.
Forrest Lloyd, one of the precinct judges, fetched me a piece from the kitchen behind the voter check-in table. His wife specializes in the pie, and I had to have a slice, he said.
“It’s a very rich pie,” Chief Judge Carol Wagner said, trying to explain the name.
At breakfast, the poll workers had savored homemade ham biscuits made by Wagner’s husband.
Later, they would sample fellow Judge Joyce Steele’s cherry pound cake.
“In this part of the county, we like to eat,” Wagner said.
It was noon, almost six hours into Election Day, and voters 31 and 32 of the day had just left the Scotch-Irish fire station.
Lloyd, Wagner and Steele faced seven-and-a-half more hours of manning one of the loneliest voting outposts in Rowan County, especially on a day when only one item ó a local quarter-cent sales tax referendum ó was on the ballot.
They brought reading materials, but somehow the trio had kept their conversations going since arriving at the fire station at 6 a.m. One topic somehow led to another.
It’s like his preacher says on Wednesday nights, Lloyd said, you go down some rabbit trails at times but it’s all interesting.
Steele, for example, usually is working at the Jones Steele Store on Chenault Road. This led to a discussion about how men at the store gossip more than women at a beauty parlor.
They gab around the wood stove inside during the winter or trade stories on the bench outside in warmer weather, Steele said.
One other rabbit trail led to a discussion about the best chicken around. The honor goes to a guy named Jerry, whose chicken tastes a lot like Keaton’s on Cool Springs Road.
If I ever see a sign on the road announcing that “Jerry’s Chicken” is being served, “you better stop and try it,” Steele told me.
Steele has been a precinct official for 21 years. Wagner and Lloyd have worked this particular poll a much shorter period but long enough to measure the years by the increasing number of junked vehicles sitting in the field across from the fire station.
Over the years, the threesome can remember only one fire call during an Election Day.
Donnie Myers came into the station that time and took off in the medical responder truck.
You might have realized by now, but this is a pretty rural area of Rowan County. Folks in these parts live close to the Davie and Iredell county lines. The fire station itself is 18.8 miles from downtown Salisbury ó I clocked it.
As chief judge, Wagner had to make that lonely ride to the Elections Office Tuesday night with the important metal casing from the ballot tabulator, which runs a tape showing how the precinct voted.
Before Wagner and her judges left the fire station, they also packed up the four voting stations and took down the various signs, including the ones outside that said “Vote Here.” The precinct signs competed with the fire station’s portable billboard, which was promoting a ham breakfast Nov. 14.
This faraway precinct actually has 1,100 registered voters, and last year’s presidential election prompted hundreds to show up. Lloyd said they had to set up chairs and run string between them, creating a maze for waiting voters to go through.
When there’s a steady stream of voters, the poll workers said, time goes much faster.
“No line today,” Lloyd shrugged.
The Scotch-Irish precinct has seen a much lower turnout than Tuesday’s. Last summer, during an obscure runoff for a statewide office, only 12 people voted, Wagner said. One man showed up just to see what was going on and ended up casting a ballot.
It took 40 minutes after I had arrived Tuesday until the 33rd voter showed up at the fire station.
“How are you, how’s your mom?” Wagner asked the voter as they checked her on the registration rolls.
The voter’s conversation with her friends behind the table took much longer than the 10 seconds she needed to mark her ballot and slide it into the tabulator.
In Needmore, voters show up in all manner of vehicles, including tractors and four-wheelers.
Voter No. 35 ó a guy in a truck ó pulled in as I was leaving about 1 p.m., full of pie.
Lloyd, Steele and Wagner were talking about Halloween as I moved toward the exit door. It seems Steele had dressed as Little Red Riding Hood for the Halloween program at church.
“I was plumb cute,” she said.
I sensed another rabbit trail dead ahead.

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