News, Politics

Jamaica polls empty during primary

0 Comments 15 September 2009

By Omar Kasrawi

It was only 8 a.m. and the line of over 100 people began at the booth by the door and stretched around the corner.  More people were streaming up Parsons Boulevard and Hillside Avenue to take their place to enter Hillcrest High School that was serving as the local polling station for Queens’ 29th District.

However, no one was in line among the dark grayish-green halls of the school to cast a ballot. The crowds comprised students waiting to pass through the security booth and start their academic day. A quick jaunt around the corner revealed the voting area to be in stark contrast: empty, save for the volunteers manning them.

This scene could have been recreated at any of three polling stations around Jamaica due to low turnout that morning. Volunteers at Hillcrest estimate that they had seen nine voters so far, in the primaries where only Democratic candidates were running for council seats, but were hopeful that more people would appear in the evening when returning from work.

The picture was similar at P.S. 50’s steel-grey voting booths, whose “in-use” indicators barely flared over a 90-minute period. People were greeted by Officer Cavello’s wide smile as she gently reminded every adult entering to cast a ballot.

“Have you voted yet?” Cavello, 27, asked Indarjeet Ranlagan, who was bringing one of his six grandchildren to school.

“Vote for what?” asked Ranlagan.

“You see. I tell you. Nobody knows about this stuff today,” Cavello said while shaking her head.

Down by P.S. 118, Helen Cooper-Gregory, a fair hearings officer of the Queens County Court, was stumping for her City Council candidate, 35-year-old upstart Clyde Vanel.

“Term limits are important to me,” said Cooper-Gregory, who lost to incumbent Leroy Comrie Jr. during the 2001 primary for the District 28 seat.  “We need change that will address our needs and that’s hard to have when you have incumbents who voted to increase term limits. “

Almost as if on cue, Comrie appeared at her corner on his way to vote for himself. He said hello to his erstwhile foe and began the requisite shaking of hands of potential supporters. Comrie took his time with everyone who came his way while taking slow and heavy steps towards the polling booth before pulling the lever.

Upon casting his ballot, he stopped to ponder the lack of fellow voters. “While I’m concerned to see such low voter turnout, on a sunny day like today it just shows that my constituents are satisfied with the job I’ve done,” he said. But then he paused and added, “I just hope that my supporters don’t stay home thinking that I’ve got this one in the bag.”

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