Home-style Polling Place Campaign 1995

THE POLITICAL GAME

September 13, 1995|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

Betty Kane's house is not a home -- at least not on Election Day.

That's when the living room of her Formstone rowhouse in Highlandtown becomes the polling place for Baltimore's 5th Precinct of the 26th Ward.

For more than 30 years, Mrs. Kane's home at 40 N. Kresson St. has enjoyed the distinction of having two huge voting machines in the dark-paneled front room on Election Day.

And now, it is the last place in the city where voters exercise their franchise in a private home.

"I'm the first one here, and the last one to leave," Mrs. Kane said, doing what no other election worker could do yesterday -- smoking a cigarette inside a polling place. (It's one of the perks that come with the turf; that, and the token $75 the city pays for leasing the space.)

The scene at the Kane home yesterday easily could have been just another meeting of a neighborhood coffee klatch -- aside from the sheets of plastic and plywood covering the carpet (and the rather imposing voting machines looming in the background).

A small group was seated around Mrs. Kane's dining room table, covered in a bright red, vinyl tablecloth. But instead of coffee cups and buns, the table held two precinct binders, a box of voter authority cards and the standard "how-to" voting-machine lever sample.

The voting at Mrs. Kane's house was, well, leisurely: By noon, only 23 of the 212 registered voters had dropped by.

Yet it was clear that Election Day there is a neighborhood -- and family -- affair.

Mrs. Kane is the chief Democratic judge, and Catherine D. Robinson, her sister who lives four doors down, is the other Democratic judge.The sole Republican judge (the second one didn't post yesterday) was Clarence J. Roberts Sr. He grew up one street over, on Janney Street, used to hang out on the corner when the Kanes had a small grocery store there, and now lives across the street. His father was the GOP judge before him.

"Growing up in the neighborhood, knowing all the neighbors, and all the years they've been doing it, it just seems normal," Mr.

Roberts said.

Lee Kane, the youngest of Mrs. Kane's two sons, has the unofficial charge of putting down the floor protection before the machines are delivered every election.

"I'm responsible for moving all the furniture," Mr. Kane said with a laugh as he sat on the couch, playing with his 21-month-old son, James Matthew, and 3-year-old daughter, Meghan.

Growing up, no one believed that Mr. Kane's house was a polling place -- not friends, classmates or even teachers. One year, he had to take in the polling place location poster to prove it.

"I think it's wild," said Diana L. Podowski, who voted at Mrs. Kane's house for the first time in last year's governor's race. "When I got my new voter's card, it said, 'Residence -- 40 N. Kresson St.,' and I said, 'I can't be going to somebody's house to vote,' " she said.

But it didn't strike William E. Gregory as odd. He's been voting there since he moved to Kresson Street, where his grandparents lived, more than 20 years ago.

"It's kind of homey: You know everyone," he said. "I live across the street, so it's very convenient."

Convenience was exactly what prompted Mrs. Kane to volunteer her home as a polling place years ago -- when the late City Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro asked her to lend a hand.

"I really did it for the elderly," the 63-year-old widow said. "They would have had to go to Madison [Street] and Edison [Highway], and a lot of them didn't have cars."

Years ago, explained Barbara E. Jackson, the city election administrator, the majority of the city's polling places were in homes.

But, she said, "after the 1970 election -- which was a catastrophe because of polling place changes at the last minute -- we started trying to use city buildings and take them out of homes."

As for Mrs. Kane's home in the eastern-most section of Highlandtown, Ms. Jackson hopes it's here to stay as a polling place.

"It's just seems that in that area, there's nothing we can use to replace it," she said. "There's no school, no church, no rec center -- nothing that's right in the middle of that particular area."

But Mrs. Kane said the city may have to look for a new location.

"I keep saying I'm giving it up," she said. "Every year it gets harder and harder."

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