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Forsyth voters relish role in history

by Keith Barber

They brought lawn chairs and waited outside polling places in the cold, damp dark. They braved the elements on Election Day and patiently stood in line to cast their ballot in what could be the most important election in a century. Motivated by deep concerns about the economy and the future direction of our country, more than 78 percent of registered voters in Forsyth County participated in the 2008 presidential election. Forty-two percent of registered voters took advantage of one-stop absentee voting in the two weeks leading up to Nov. 4. Therefore, on Tuesday, voting lines were not nearly as long as many expected.

At 6:20 a.m. at Shiloh Lutheran Church in Lewisville, Lisa Mingus estimated more than 200 voters waited in line to vote.

“I knew there would be a line, but it did surprise me, definitely. It was beyond my expectations,” Mingus said.

Despite the size of the queue, Mingus waited just a little over an hour before casting her vote. Mingus would not reveal her selection for president but acknowledged she voted for change.

“I work for a community bank here in Winston. What I see mostly, and what I hear people say in the bank… that they’re afraid. They’re afraid of the economy and what’s going to happen because they’ve worked hard for what they’ve had and maintaining those things is important,” she said.

The majority of Forsyth voters selected Barack Obama for president over John McCain. Obama won nearly 55 percent of the vote in Forsyth County. Obama went on to win the state of North Carolina by a razor-thin margin of 11,239 votes. Forsyth voters also selected Kay Hagan for US Senate by a 57-40 margin over Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole. Statewide, Hagan defeated Dole by a 52-44 margin. As Forsyth County went, so went North Carolina. US Rep. Virginia Foxx, District 5, defeated Roy Carter 54-45 in Forsyth and earned a 58-41 victory statewide, and in all the other races, Forsyth voters generally appeared to reflect the general sentiments of voters in the 99 other counties.

Stacie Carter campaigned on her father’s behalf at Shiloh Lutheran Church early Tuesday morning, and praised her dad’s perseverance throughout his 15-month campaign. Stacie Carter said voters had responded to her dad’s ideas in a universally positive manner, and he had even received endorsements from prominent Republicans like NASCAR’s Junior Johnson. It simply wasn’t meant to be.

By 8:05 a.m., the line outside Shiloh Lutheran was down to approximately 50 people as a light drizzle fell. Yet nothing seemed to phase Forsyth’s voters. At the Polo Park precinct, it got so peaceful by mid-morning that poll worker Ethel Evans had to convince people that they had come to the right place. At 10:05 a.m., a mere 204 ballots had been cast at Polo Park. Evans attributed the low number to record turnout during one-stop absentee voting.

Many Forsyth voters could be found milling about at Starbucks and Krispy Kreme on Tuesday, taking advantage of giveaway offers for those who sported “I Voted” stickers.

Sheila Hunter sipped on her free tall Starbucks coffee outside the coffee maker’s location off Stratford Road. Hunter, who describes herself as a consistent voter, said it only took her 35 minutes total to cast her ballot at the Latham Elementary precinct. Hunter said her vote marked a number of firsts, including her first vote for a Libertarian candidate — gubernatorial candidate Michael Munger. Hunter also voted for Obama for president despite the fact he’s younger than she is.

“That was a tough pill to swallow, but I feel like the future of our country needs to be with people who are more progressive, who have new and fresh ideas,” Hunter said. “I certainly respect Sen. McCain’s commitment to our country, but I feel like we need someone with new ideas.”

Jennifer Pegram volunteered for the Forsyth County Republican Party Tuesday, passing out voter cards with information regarding conservative judges at Summit School off Reynolda Road. Pegram said it took her 1 hour, 10 minutes to vote at her precinct in Clemmons on Tuesday. She waited until Election Day to cast her ballot because of the unusually long lines for one-stop absentee voting.

The scene at the Obama campaign headquarters on Fourth Street stood in stark contrast to the relative peace and quiet at the polls. In the early afternoon, a constant stream of people filed through the door as Obama staffers fielded calls from voters, and organized canvassers to get out the vote. The mood of Obama supporters could best be described as quiet confidence.

Bobbie Miller, owner of Maxx Studio beauty salon in Waughtown, volunteered her time Tuesday to assist in any way. Miller described the chance to be a part of history in the making as a great personal honor.

“This was a unique experience because there was a lot of love,” Miller said. “Everybody just seemed to want to volunteer as much as they could to support Obama in making him the first black president.”

On the eve of the election, Miller said a prayer for our nation. On Tuesday night, Miller’s prayers were answered. Beth Weller, a volunteer for the Forsyth County Democratic Party and an Obama supporter, said she felt nervous and excited on Election Day.

“I was nervous yesterday. I think there’s going to be some scary moments tonight. I’m nervous and excited,” Weller said.

Students of Winston-Salem’s six universities played a key role in the outcome of the 2008 election, and they were out in force on Election Day.

Samantha Dickenson, a Forsyth Tech student, passed out flyers in support of the Forsyth Tech educational bonds at Summit School at lunchtime on Tuesday. Samantha’s efforts paid off as Forsyth voters overwhelmingly passed the $62 million bond package by a 62-37 margin. Catherine McLean, a third-year Wake Forest law school student, served as an election observer for the Obama campaign Tuesday.

 “I think people are paying a lot more attention to this election because there’s a lot more at stake,” McLean said. “If you look at our economy, it’s obviously at a low point so I think people have that in mind. One of the obvious things is, Will we be able to find employment once we leave? We have loans to pay back.”

Wanda Alexander, a poll worker at the Forsyth Tech West Campus precinct, said students like Dickenson and McLean are part of a true grassroots movement.

“I think the grassroots movement is people who don’t necessarily have an affinity for politics but they have an interest in knowing how things work, and so everybody works a little bit. Each individual finger becomes a mighty fist when you ball it up,” she said.

Perhaps no one embodied the transformative nature of the Obama campaign more than Martha Hanson Chafin. A 30-year resident of Winston-Salem and lifelong Republican, Chafin decided to volunteer for the Obama campaign last spring. When she cast her vote for Obama, he was the first Democrat she had voted for since John F. Kennedy. Chafin described Hurricane Katrina as a “double tragedy” and cited the disaster and its aftermath as a turning point in her political life. She began to question the direction of the Republican party, and then found a leader she wanted to follow.

“The more I got to see of Obama, the more excited and interested and thinking, ‘My goodness.’ For me, he is what some many people have been waiting for,” Chafin said.

On Election Day, Chafin could barely contain her excitement. Her ebullient joy was mixed with a sense of great anticipation, and on Tuesday night, her hopes came to fruition.

“I can’t say enough about how happy I am and how excited I am,” Chafin said. “And I pray Obama is our president because I want to get involved with young people, and I think he’s going to have lots and lots of challenges and need things for people to get involved in.”

Chafin said she had a good feeling about the outcome on Election Day and like the majority of Forsyth County voters, she was right.

To comment on this story, e-mail Keith T. Barber at keith@yesweekly.com

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