Wineka column: On Election Day, are you at a Zumba class?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2016

SALISBURY — There’s something that feels really American about voting at the Wagon Wheel.

This place — it used to be called Jim Shoaf’s Barn Dance — has always had a country swing to it. The cavernous building, much like an airplane hangar, takes up more than 10,000 square feet and treasures its well-worn oak dance floor.

Big crowds still show up for live bands and dancing on Saturday nights, and there are $3 Zumba classes offered Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights. It’s a piece of Americana and has been for more than 50 years.

But Tuesday, it was all about primary Election Day at the Wagon Wheel, which has a homemade poster near the entrance that says, “Rock Me, Mama, Like a Wagon Wheel.”

Asked how many people had voted at the Wagon Wheel by about 2 p.m., one of the precinct officials, Jim Mallinson, said, “Not enough.” That’s really the correct answer for any election, isn’t it?

More people choose not to vote, and it always leaves those who do take part in the democratic process wondering why. But out in rural Rowan County at least, “steady” was a word precinct officials kept using for turnout throughout the day.

Was it the Donald Trump factor? Dale Wagstaff, chief judge for the Franklin precinct, thought so.

“We’ve had 10 or 12 (voters) already registered one way but wanted to register the other way,” Wagstaff said. “That might be of interest.”

And it almost always was a registered Democrat wanting to vote in the Republican primary.

Another thing Wagstaff said was interesting was the number of 17-year-olds coming in who were voting for the first time. The cool thing was, Wagstaff said, they were arriving with their moms and dads.

If 17-year-olds will be 18 by the time of the Nov. 8 general election, they are allowed to vote in the primary. “At least five have voted,” Wagstaff said. “It’s great.”

At the Salem Lutheran Church precinct, Chief Judge Carolyn Fesperman reported 331 people having voted by about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday. Things had slowed down considerably from the morning, when polls opened at 6:30 a.m.

“The first three hours we were averaging 45 an hour,” Fesperman said. “There’s been somebody, almost constantly.”

Fesperman already had eaten lunch. She said she and her fellow precinct workers had plenty of snacks to “nibble along” during the rest of the long day.

At Locke Fire Department on N.C. 150, 350 had voted by 1;30 p.m. Again, steady.

At Miller Recreation Center, which is heavily Democratic in registration, the turnout was smaller — only 92 by 2:30 p.m. Chief Judge Rosalind Mitchell said her precinct, which officially is called West Ward III, had an additional 186 people who voted early.

Meeting voters as they arrived at the Miller Recreation Center was the Rev. William Turner, who was encouraging  people to vote for, among other people, Democrat Ken Spaulding for N.C. governor.

Turner knew many of the people heading inside to vote. Before making his case for candidates, he would share information on children and grandchildren, talk about the beautiful weather or compare notes about getting older.

“We’re not old till we’re 80,” a neighbor told Turner.

Back at the Wagon Wheel, veteran precinct official Marilyn Caddle said there had been no problems with the new requirement for voters to show an identification, such as a driver’s license, before being handed a ballot.

“It’s easier for us workers,” Caddle said, explaining how the identifications help them in looking up names, which sometimes can be difficult to hear or spell in a busy, noisy room.

Wagstaff couldn’t say enough good things about the hospitality of Jimmy Shoaf, who owns the Wagon Wheel.

Even though Shoaf has been recovering from knee surgery and wasn’t even bouncing around the grounds in his golf cart like he usually does, he made it clear the precinct workers should call him if there was anything they needed.

Yes, there’s something American about voting at the Wagon Wheel. Or at a nearby church. Or a fire station, community center, public library, park, town hall, school or legion building.

When they hand you that sticker that says “I Voted Today,” it’s a good, patriotic, American feeling. It rocks your world, Mama.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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