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An Election Day In The Life Of America

November 5, 1996

Election snapshot: Augusta, Maine. Therese Veilleux, an elderly woman with a toddler in tow, exercised her rights Tuesday. She couldn’t imagine doing otherwise.

``It’s my duty. I vote every time,″ she said. ``We were brought up that way.″

For weeks, conventional wisdom has told of a citizenry that is jaded, peeved or just plain angry. Even Tuesday, dozens of comments from America’s polling places suggested that Election Day 1996 was characterized by a balkanized electorate and candidates people perceived as, at best, lesser evils.

But annoyed or not, voters voted, and snapshots across the land underscore that Election Day still provides the grease that guides America along its sometimes impressive, often unsteady path.

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``It’s a sad commentary today that we don’t have better choices. The average Joe can’t become president. It’s a game of power and money.″ _ Dorothy Birch, 70, of Milwaukee, a retired nurse.

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Rachel Polk of Cleveland is 18 _ old enough to vote and old enough to be disgusted. She didn’t vote FOR anyone for president, just against two people. That meant supporting Reform Party candidate Ross Perot.

Why? Polk had to think about that for a few minutes. ``Because,″ she finally said, ``I think Clinton is a liar and Dole is just not right for president.″

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Heard at the polls:

Tampa, Fla.: ``I believe (Dole) is more of a Christian and more trustworthy than Clinton. He’s a proven leader. He served his country in the military, and I believe you can trust him a lot more than you can Bill Clinton.″

Hurricane, W.Va., from a Dole supporter: ``I’m not an anti-Clinton. He’s become, actually, a good Republican lately. He’s as middle as they get. I’m not offended by him. I don’t trust him, but I’m not offended by him.″

Bismarck, N.D.: ``I think we need to get away from the emphasis on Democrats and Republicans and vote for a decent person.″

Hoboken, N.J.: ``I’m a card-carrying Republican and I couldn’t vote for Bob Dole. ``It seems like his campaign slogan should have been, `It’s my turn.′ ″

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Election snapshot: Norway, Iowa. A Union Pacific coal train rumbles by.

They moved the bright-red fire engine outside the Florence Township station to make room for Election Day 1996, in the form of paper ballots (no machines here).

The firefighters’ coats remained inside. ``When they have a fire,″ said Betty Schulte, an election official, ``we just get out of the way.″

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Perot, self-proclaimed populist, arrived at his Dallas polling place in the classic suburban family vehicle: a Voyager mini-van.

He drove it himself.

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``I’ve voted here a lot of times before. Never voted for myself for president. A little nervous.″ _ Bob Dole, casting his ballot in Russell, Kan.

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Michael Rubin believes in downsizing government _ really.

The Robotics engineer, the Libertarian candidate for ``public weigher″ in Lubbock County, Texas, has vowed to eliminate his job if he wins. The archaic elected post has no salary and only one technical responsibility _ to weigh oranges grown in Lubbock County.

Oranges, however, don’t grow in Lubbock County.

``The standard joke is, `Are you going to run for president and abolish that?‴ said Rubin, who also wiped out the public weigher position in San Antonio eight years ago while a college student.

Neither Rubin nor his Republican opponent, a retired electrical engineer placed on the ballot by his son, has spent a dime campaigning.

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Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, voted in the gymnasium of Forks River School in Elmwood, Tenn., a couple miles from the Gore home in Carthage. Daughters Karenna and Kristen came along.

Afterward, Gore walked over to talk to students.

Gotta watch those kids, though: One student asked why his parents should vote for Gore. The vice president declined to respond; Tennessee bans politicking within 100 feet of a polling site.

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``I just don’t think we need another grumpy person in office.″ _ Jeff Knudson, 20, of Madison, Wis., who voted for Clinton.

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Even The New York Times crossword puzzle didn’t let Election Day escape unnoticed. And it noticed in an ingenious way.

The clues for 39 and 43 across, ``Lead story in tomorrow’s newspaper,″ worked out to be ``Clinton elected.″ But wait _ the answer ``Bob Dole elected″ also fit very nicely.

The puzzle was constructed so that the answer to a down clue, ``Black Halloween animal,″ may be ``cat″ or ``bat.″ If cat, that’s the first letter of Clinton; if bat, it’s the start of Bob Dole. The same goes for the next six down words. Each has two possible, correct answers.

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``I have done what I can do _ all I can do.″ _ Bob Dole at a rally Tuesday.

``We just need to run our country the way we want to run our lives.″ _ Clinton in his last campaign speech Tuesday.

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Election snapshot: the future.

For first-time voter Bryan Roundtree, Election Day couldn’t come too soon. The 8-year-old Raleigh, N.C., boy awoke Tuesday anticipating his visit to the polls.

Bryan, his brother and his sister went with their parents to vote as part of a first-time North Carolina project to let kids have their own informal vote.

His brother, Carlos, 14, looks forward to the day their ballots will be real.

``In a way it would have been better if it counted,″ Carlos said. ``But,″ he said, sounding like a good citizen, ``at least we had a voice.″

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