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Mark Hayward's City Matters:Voting place signs like Election totems

By Tuesday morning, all of our door bells had been rung, all the donation checks had been written, all the telephone calls had been made.

So if you were a young (or old) campaign worker with boundless enthusiasm, you had one final task to complete before you could call the 2012 election a wrap and flop onto the couch to catch up on TiVo'd episodes of "Walking Dead" or "The Colbert Report."

You dug out your winter wear, gave an extra brush to your hair and headed to the polls with signs for your favorite candidate. Across Manchester, dozens of people stood at polling places Tuesday, holding up the political version of a totem pole - a wooden staff stacked with yard signs that bespoke their political allegiances.

They stood for hours in early November weather, crammed beside people they might not have not liked, at least from a politcal standpoint.

"I like it. It's interesting. It's nice to see voters. Everyone's in a chipper mood," said Scott Carlson, a substitute teacher. His sign post included about four signs in favor of Phil Greazzo, a Republican candidate for state Senate, and one for a consitutitonal ban on any income tax.

Along with about 10 others, Carlson stood beside the west-side wall at the Manchester Health Department, the voting spot for city residents who live in Ward 3. Police barricades separated the horde from cars plying a narrow driveway. The long building and driveway gave clear passage to a chilly northern breeze, which proved as steady as the line of voters inside.

At the front of the crowd of sign holders (with his back to the breeze, by the way) was Paul Rounds. He grabbed that spot an hour before polls opened after coming to Manchester from Vermont to hold a sign for Greazzo's opponent, incumbent state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro.

He was dressed in a hooded parka, wore a knit cap, Sorel boots and two layers of mittens. His pockets held hand warmers for when the sun went down.

"Lou was my coach and did a lot for me," said Rounds, a one-time student at New Hampshire College. He said he's held signs for D'Allesandro since the 1970s, most of the time at the Democratic-leaning Ward 3 polling place.

"People ask me who to vote for, I stay away from that. I just want to influence them to vote for Lou," Rounds said.

Minutes after speaking, Rounds was answering questions from two young voters about down-ticket races. He said they were drawn to the "Teamsters for Obama" sign on the top of his pole.

Of course, candidates spend time greeting voters, too. The outgoing Greazzo had a "Hello," or "Thank you for voting," for nearly every person walking by.

"The ones that aren't voting for you don't acknowledge you," he said. He shows up for visibility's sake. Nearly everyone going to vote has already made up their mind, he said, but an occasional voter will pop a question that may give him the opportunity to sway a vote.

This New Hampshire tradition of mugging voters on the way to polls is strange. I've lived and voted in four other states and never have seen crowds of politicians and their minions outside polling places. My relatives think it's weird. But hey, I'm always happy to see someone smile at me, even if they are only angling for my vote.

Pat Long, who was running for state representative, said any incumbent should be outside with a sign on election day. It shows he's available to voters.

"This is best for access. I'm captive, I can't get away," he said. He held a sign encouraging people to vote for him. And although he is a loyal Democrat, he said he wouldn't hold anyone else's sign. No one from other campaigns went door to door on his behalf, he said. "On election day, it's every man for himself."

Carlson and Rounds said the people standing in line get along despite their political differences, and Long and Greazzo - both aldermen - ended up beside one another when a firefighter holding a sign for another candidate moved to another spot. To amuse me, they engaged in a brief conversation about a zoning issue.

Truth be told, the overwhelmingly Democratic crowd gave little notice to Carlson and Greazzo. And the Republicans got much less recognition from passersby. When D'Allesandro, who ended up winning the race, showed up to shake hands and thank Rounds and others, Greazzo and he exchanged curt hellos before Greazzo went on his way to the next polling place.

No potential there to win a vote.

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Mark Hayward may be reached at

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