By Jacob Berlin, Point Park News Service
“I’ve been taking pictures out here all day,” Deb Burns says as she pulls out her smartphone and points it at the sky. It’s illegal to take pictures inside a polling place, so she’s been popping outdoors like a smoker who needs a cigarette.
The elections clerk at the New Castle High School ballot box, who’s also a New Castle resident, says she’s a photographer — and steps outside during gaps in voter turnout to keep up with her hobby.
“I’m chronicling the day,” she said proudly. “There’s been a lot of wind. And a lot of beautiful clouds.”
Cell phone photos of November clouds may seem mundane to others, but they’re important to Burns — as important as the duty which brought her to work the polling station.
This is a common theme among those who made the trek to the school’s Field House to vote. Although individual ballots, opinions or even snapshots may be inconsequential by themselves, they contribute to a sense of purpose and passion within.
The news media has been touting higher turnout for days, as both sides are motivated to show up, and that evidence has shown itself on the ground.
“This is my third year working,” Burns said. “This year is busier. We’ve almost tripled what we had in the last election. I think the Democrats are trying to make a point.”
And although the cool breeze and blowing leaves make nice photos for Burns, showers earlier in the day didn’t turn away voters.
“We had rain this morning and still had more people coming out than we did the rest of the day,” she says.
As Burns stood outside the Field House observing the setting sun, she thought of the important connection between her civic duty and the place she’s at.
“Being here at the school, I think the kids need to know that voting is important and they need to get their own individual vote out there in order to make a difference,” she said. “Every single person can make a difference.”
This is a message that fellow resident Jeff Whitworth offered to his son, who’s currently in the ninth grade at New Castle High School.
“I tell him to be engaged and do your civic duty,” Whitworth said. “Learn what liberty is about and how our country functions. You have to maintain liberty, you can’t just enjoy it.”
Whitworth acknowledges that as a city New Castle has to work to maintain itself, as news reports constantly detail problems with crime and employment. And as President Donald Trump has made midterm campaign stops around the country, New Castle was not on the list.
“The city has made its own bed,” Whitworth said. “It’s a union Democrat town. It always has been. You go out in the townships and see the antithesis. It’s the exact opposite. We had the Rooneys here campaign for Obama and I’ll be surprised if you ever see Trump here.”
New Castle resident George Federkeil has a similar but more cynical outlook, especially when it comes to a Pittsburgh reporter making the trip up North.
“So if you’re here, you got the short straw then?” Federkeil asked. “Why would you come here?”
Federkeil has had six children go through the school district, now aged 28-38 and living all over the country.
Asked why New Castle is special to him, Federkeil said that “because we live here. This isn’t where we grew up and it’s probably not where we would have chosen to come, but we’re here.”
His wife, Barbara, chimed in.
“New Castle is not forgotten,” she said. “We’re where we need to be.”