Monday, February 8, 2016

Steady stream of immigrant voters in Bensalem

Emilie Lounsberry reports:

Steady stream of immigrant voters in Bensalem


Emilie Lounsberry reports:

1:30 p.m.

At the St. Mary outpatient center in Bensalem, a steady stream of voters cast ballots in a melting pot district of immigrants, young and old. There were Indians, Russians and Spanish-speaking residents among the voters, and they were enthusiastic -- and proud -- to be selecting a new president in this historic race.

This is a new polling place under a compromise approved just last month by the Bucks County Board of Elections in the midst of a federal lawsuit filed after the board in 2007 shut down the polling place at the adjacent Creekside Apartments, home of many of those who turned out yesterday.

Some residents contended in the voting-rights lawsuit that the shutdown of their old polling place -- in a community room at the complex -- was an effort by Republicans to suppress the turnout of the many elderly, minority and predominantly Democratic voters who live at Creekside.

Yesterday, many said they welcomed the new polling place. It's closer than where they voted in the primary election, and the parking is better than at the community center.

"Today, it's easy," said Yelena Gulko, 61, who has lived at Creekside for nine of the 12 years since she and her husband, Leon, 68, came here from their native Soviet Union.

He was a pilot, and she was a meteorologist in Kiev, but they said they left everything behind for the many freedoms of America -- including the right to vote. Yesterday, they said they happily voted for Obama.

"He is young, smart, very educated. So I trust him," said Gulko, who said he and his wife are still learning English but otherwise have adapted very well to their new country.

Casting a ballot for Obama, Yelena Gulko said, was a reflection on "our big hope on the future of our country."

As they headed toward a walking path back to the complex, both said they are happy to be Americans.

"It's best country in all the world," said Yelena Gulko.

Her husband agreed. "For us, it's perfect."

Tanya Rivera, 28, a stay-at-home mom who is pregnant with her second child, said she brought her 9-year-old son and his friends with her to vote so they could experience an important moment. "This is history and they need to be a part of it," said Rivera, who said she voted for Obama.

Rivera said the new polling place was convenient even for seniors.

It was a happy little spot in Bensalem, a mix of seniors -- some with canes, others holding onto spouses or friends for support -- and young mothers and working-class people taking a break from work. The air was filled with a mix of languages, sprinkled with English, as voters stood outside to chat after casting their ballots.

Willa Johnson, 65, a retired teacher and Creekside resident who supported Obama, said she is a regular voter, but this election was especially important to her. The economy, the war in Iraq, the price of prescription medication all weigh heavily on her, she said. It's not good, she said, when people have to choose "between taking medicine and buying food."

Jescine Fitten, 25, a Creekside resident and first-time voter, said she enthusiastically supported Obama.

But she said her vote, while historically significant, was more a vote against Bush.

"It didn't really matter if it was Obama, as long as it wasn't McCain because of Bush," she said.

Trinette Funderburk, 37, who brought her 5-year-old daughter, Jasmine, along, said she was a first-time voter and happy to cast her ballot for Obama. "Oh yeah, I hope he wins. Give him a chance. We need change," she said.

LaShanna Overton, 28, a stay-at-home mom who brought two of her four children along, said it was historic not just because of Obama but because of Sarah Palin. Having a minority and a woman in the race, she said, was great. "To just be a part of it was amazing," she said. "Times are changing finally."

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Thomas FitzgeraldThomas Fitzgerald joined The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000, and has covered Harrisburg as well as city, state and national politics for the newspaper. He was a “boy on the bus” in the 2004 presidential campaign and during primary contests in 2000 and 1996.

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