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Collins: Connecticut found its voting groove

In a short period while I was watching voters line up outside the polling station at Preston Plains Middle School, I noticed, all in a row, three people leaning on canes and one being pushed in a wheelchair.

Nearby, down a sidewalk from the busy parking lot, came a young mother holding her daughter's hand, and they were skipping together toward the line.

It seemed like everywhere I went Tuesday, voters were respectfully, dutifully, in the case of a skipping mother and daughter, gleefully even, going about the business of voting.

The civic dedication was as inspiring as the fabulous November Connecticut weather, with lots of sunshine, some white clouds passing by and gusty winds to whip around leaves and animate the scenes of lines snaking out of schools and town halls all around eastern Connecticut.

I didn't hear a single grumble about waiting, and there everyone was, in it together, Republicans and Democrats, masked, six feet apart, showing up for an election that could well turn out to be historic just for its turnout.

At Preston Plains, one of the voters on a cane was 92-year-old Raymond Lupert, who drove himself to the school to vote. He arrived at the line to vote with the help of someone who met him in the parking lot and decided he needed an escort.

Lupert managed to put on a mask, when reminded, as he was entering the school. A few people rushed to help him when he dropped his cane, before he finally made it inside.

When I caught up with him at the school exit, he was being escorted by another new friend, someone who answered for him when I asked if he had found someone to vote for.

"Trump," the woman said. "I helped him fill it out. He voted for Trump."

Lupert nodded enthusiastically, not shy at all about his Trump vote.

For all I know the woman who helped him vote was a Biden supporter, and they canceled each other's votes out. I got the impression she wanted to help an elderly voter, no matter how he filled out his ballot.

I chose to take the voting at Preston Plains as a good omen for Connecticut, the spirit of neighborliness, duty and even some whimsical skipping, seemed like a bright spot in this long, miserable pandemic.

Maybe we are not as desperately polarized as we think.

Indeed, for all the hand wringing in advance, voting in eastern Connecticut Tuesday was surprisingly routine, if especially robust. I also experienced, on the rounds I often make every Election Day, much less partisan rancor than usual.

The sign-holding party enthusiasts at the polls seemed especially subdued and respectful.

At the polling station in Sterling, at the northernmost reach of the 18th Senate District, which is hosting a rematch this year between Sen. Heather Somers and Col. Bob Statchen, I found the most enthusiastic Trump supporters I had seen all day.

"We don't want anyone to take our country away," said 63-year-old Jim Navan, a Sterling native who was presiding over a virtual Trump camp, with a tent surrounded by dozens of Trump signs and big Trump flags.

A helper was waving a Trump flag at passing cars, whose drivers were obliging with horn honking.

Nearby I found John Brady, chairman of the Sterling Democratic Town Committee, who was nursing a collection of signs promoting Statchen, Joe Biden and Mark DePonte, candidate in the 45th House District.

Brady shrugged off the elaborate Trump demonstration, given that it is a town where Republicans far outnumber Democrats.

He demonstrated a lot of the get-along spirit of voting day I saw around Connecticut Tuesday, even allowing that Republican Sen. Heather Somers is a good candidate and hard to beat.

Statchen is also a good candidate and may do better in this year's rematch but probably could not prevail in a Trump-driven town like Sterling, Brady said.

"He might lose less," he said, with the suggestion of hope and resolve but realism I took to be the hallmark of Connecticut's year of strangely orderly and friendly pandemic voting.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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