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Wherever locals go to vote, a bake sale can't be far away

Citizens inclined to believe our country is as politically divided as any time since the Civil War are overlooking one important and unifying factor.

Baked goods.

If early visits to polling places on Election Day — East Lyme High School, Waterford Town Hall and Nathan Hale School in New London — are any indication, donuts, bagels, crullers, brownies, cookies, muffins and so on are the delicacies around which our nation can presumably heal.

At precisely 6 a.m. on a chilly, overcast morning in East Lyme, as volunteers and election officials opened the doors for early voters, they were fortified by a stand-alone table featuring urns of coffee and boxes of bagels and donuts.

Wendy Sims, head of the election committee, was of course focused on making sure the voting went smoothly. "This is a good day for democracy," she said. "It's a little slow right now, mostly people on their way to work, but there are issues in town that mean it could end up being a heavier turnout than usual."

Bill Ellis, exiting the school, was one of the first residents to cast his ballot. "It makes me feel part of the process," he said. "If I have any complaints, I can at least say that I cared enough to vote."

Back inside, during a lull, Sims acknowledged the supply of baked goods as being important for sustenance and cheer, but also pointed to the other end of the room, where her 16-year-old son, Sam Sims, was volunteering as the tabulator tender. "He'll probably eat most of this," she said.

When informed of his mother's prediction, Sam Sims nodded with only a trace of sheepishness. "She's probably right," he said.

Candidates and supporters positioned in front of the high school's entrance had no visible baked goods inasmuch as holding campaign signs seemed a higher priority. "Yes, I know (there are baked goods inside)," said Richard Steel, a candidate for Board of Finance. "It sounds good."

He was standing with fellow Democrat Jason Deeble, running for Board of Selectmen. They were both supporting a rather elaborate sign that required two support posts and managed to include the names and desired offices for all the party candidates. Did they hire an engineer to construct the signage, they were asked?

"Actually, a plumber built it," Donovan said, pointing to the name Terence P. Donovan on the sign. "He's running for Zoning Commission. He did a pretty good job, didn't he?"

In the parking lot at Waterford Town Hall, Nick Gauthier, a Democratic Representative Town Meeting candidate, was holding a less elaborate election sign — but a tall one, nonetheless, befitting his height — and waving at cars passing by. He was joined by Maryanne McGuirk, running for Board of Assessment Appeals, and first selectman candidate Elizabeth Sabilia.

Had they visited the bake sale tent just outside the entrance to Town Hall, they were asked? The one operated by members of the Waterford High School Safe Grad Organization to support their drug- and alcohol-free graduation party for the Class of 2020?

"Not yet, but we know it's over there," McGuirk said.

"It's definitely worth visiting," Sabilia laughed.

In the meantime, while the three candidates waited for early voters, did they ever discuss their waving style?

"Like, the queen?" Gauthier asked, demonstrating the stiff, side-to-side technique popular with royalty or parade princesses. "I do a lot of thumbs-ups, particularly if it's someone I know or recognize from campaigning."

Sabilia demonstrated her own waving style, which was more of a side-armed salute, while McGuirk showed off a very easy, flowing wave, indicating perhaps that she's far more of a natural candidate than a British monarch.

Under the bake sale tent were three large tables arranged in a U-shape — barely enough to support the bountiful supply of virtually every sort of confection ever placed in an oven set to 350 degrees and infused with butter, flour and sugar.

"Well, we have a lot of volunteers baking or bringing stuff because the (graduation party) is important to us," said Anna Bakken. "We got here at 5 this morning and we'll be here till voting's over, so it's a long day. But it's a good thing and we'll see a lot of voters."

It was pointed out that presumably nonvoters would be drawn to such an array of goodness.

"Well, most of our customers are voters, and today so far looks like a good turnout," said Julia O'Connell, another Safe Grad volunteer. "And if they tell us going in (to vote) that they'll buy something on the way out, they almost always do."

By 9 a.m., it was raining at the Nathan Hale School in New London, and candidates lining the curb by the walkway leading into the school were either protected by umbrellas, charitably sharing umbrellas betwixt parties or desired offices, or just getting wet.

Inside, the school's parent-teacher organization was sponsoring a bake sale with a table strategically located just by the polling exit. Trina Charles, president of the PTO, said that, while she can't predict a voter's party affiliation by the baked goods they buy, most voters are at least inclined to come and "take a look and donate."

Julia Chase-Brand, who just emerged from voting and had selected and paid for an item, said, "I don't think you can tell how someone voted by what baked good they buy." She held up her purchase. "This is an old-fashioned cruller, and you'd expect a Republican to probably go old-fashioned. But I'm a Democrat."

Outside, the increasingly damp candidates continued to banter with one another, including Republican candidate for City Council Adam Sprecace, Republican Board of Education candidate Susan Tierney and Democratic candidate for Board of Education Regina Mosley. They all acknowledged that, yes, it was dry inside the school and that, yes, it smelled really good by the PTO bake sale.

When New London Mayor Michael Passero, up for re-election, was informed that cinnamon donuts were becoming an endangered species only a few yards away, he smiled with regret.

"It's tempting," he said, "but I'm happy to stay out here and greet voters."

r.koster@theday.com

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