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Friday, November 11, 2005

End of Garage Polling Place in Des Moines Echoes Last One in Fort Wayne

The Des Moines Register story about the end of the last garage polling place in its city brought to mind the last such polling place in the Summit City. In Des Moines, Stacey and Beverly Carper's two-car garage had hosted voting machines for every Election Day of the last 33 years.

However, Mr. Carper died last week and Polk County (IA) election officials moved the polling place for voters in Precinct 72 to a nearby school.

There is something right and appropriate when the basic democratic right of voting is conducted in a residential garage.

Fort Wayne had several of these polling places. Each faded away. There were varying reasons. In some cases, new homeowners were not willing to allow the use of their residential property. In others, a more convenient polling became available with the construction of a school or church. Finally, updated regulations about handicapped accessibility did away with the remainder.

The last garage polling place in Allen County was at a residence on the corner of Tacoma and Prange Drives on Fort Wayne's southwest side. Fort Wayne attorney C. Erik Chickedantz (pictured above) and his family owned the house from 1979 to 1989. When he bought the property from Dr. William Kleifgen it had already been use as a polling place. When the Chickedantz' sold it, a covenant was included to keep it as a polling place.

The Des Moines Register's description of the Carpers' experience:
Voters in Precinct 72 on Des Moines' west side have traditionally settled the issues of the day in Stacey and Beverly Carper's two-car garage.

The couple volunteered the garage as a polling place when the old neighborhood spot at Frisbie Elementary School shut down 33 years ago.

For each election since Richard Nixon was president, the Carpers would back their vehicles into the street at 6100 Gordon Ave., fire up the wood stove, put on the coffee, and let democracy run its course. About 300 people are registered in the precinct. Voting has become a family affair.

Beverly said her husband always kept the garage tidy because his neighbors visited with regularity. But her friends said it would be too much to host an election today with so many grieving friends and relatives at the house.

Polk County Auditor Michael Mauro called the Carpers' garage "the most unique polling station I've ever seen."

"We've talked about moving it before, but it has such historic significance," Mauro said. "The Carpers have enjoyed hosting it. They've been such gracious, nice people, and the people in the neighborhood have always enjoyed it."
Chickedantz said that his family also enjoyed hosting the poll workers and voters.

Chickedantz said, "It was a great civics lesson for the kids. Our kids were in grade school and middle school at the time."

When asked whether the advent of the election provided impetus to keep his garage neat and tidy, he remarked, "I'm ex-military so I tend to be inclined that way."

Chickedantz said that the poll workers would visit the site the day before the election to get set up and obtain a key to the house. On Election Day morning, the poll workers would arrive at 4 AM. The house had a bathroom inside just a few steps from the back door. He remarked that, starting at shortly after 4 AM, "the bathroom got used a lot."

My earliest voting memories are of visiting the Prange garage, in the pre-CHickedantz days, with my mom. My first election day participation also took place in the Chickedantz garage. I think I voted an entire Democrat slate--sorry, Mitch.
Your first voting experience must have been in a city election. I am not sure there were any county elections during the time the Chickedantz' owned the property that the Democrat's fielded a candidate for every county and township office.

If so, it may have been so only for Wayne Township where the precinct is located.

Anyway, you don't have to apologize to me. Never apologize for the act of voting.
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