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Nursing home residents relish right to vote

November 2, 2017 GMT

STAMFORD — Residents who don’t intend to vote in Tuesday’s mayoral election had better not say so at Brighton Gardens nursing home.

They’ll get an earful.

Elizabeth Syc, whose friends call her Betty, said neglecting to vote is just plain foolish.

“They are giving up a right many people fought for them to have,” said Syc, whose late husband, Casimir Syc, “was lucky to survive” World War II’s bloody Battle of the Bulge.

“They went to war so we could have elections. You have the right to vote - how can you not take it?” Syc said. “Women had to fight, too, to be able to vote.”

She and other residents of Brighton Gardens take part in a state program mandating that absentee ballots be made available to nursing homes. Before each Election Day, registrars send letters and absentee ballot applications to such facilities for residents who wish to vote, said Lucy Corelli, Stamford’s Republican registrar.

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“They send us back the completed applications, which are numbered, and we bring them to the town clerk, who issues the ballots,” Corelli said. “Then each registrar, Republican and Democrat, sends a person to the nursing home with the ballots.”

Residents are given privacy while they fill them out. The sealed ballots are handed back to registrar officials and returned to the town clerk, who stores them until they are counted on Election Day, Corelli said.

“Candidates have wanted to be there during supervised balloting, but they can’t go,” she said. “No one is allowed to watch.”

Denise Odena, activities and volunteer coordinator at Brighton Gardens, works with the registrars’ office to get absentee ballots to residents.

“It gives the residents a sense of belonging,” Odena said. “They feel like they are making a difference. Some are die-hard Democrats or die-hard Republicans, and they’re anxious to vote.”

It’s a good program, said Gladys Nowakowski, 89, another resident of the Roxbury Road nursing home. She has not skipped a vote since she was 21 and old enough to register, Nowakowski said.

“I have never missed voting for a president. I never missed voting for a mayor. I never even missed a primary, because that’s when you get the right person in” the race, said Nowakowski, a lifelong Stamford resident. “I think that, as an American, it’s something I should do.”

The first president she voted for was Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, when he defeated the Democrat, Adlai Stevenson, in a landslide. Nowakowski remembers the slogan of Eisenhower’s campaign: I Like Ike.

Eisenhower had earned prestige as a commanding general of European forces during World War II, which ended a few years before he ran. Once he became president, Eisenhower focused on maintaining world peace.

History repeating

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Some of the nation’s critical issues when Nowakowski was a brand-new voter are similar to today. The United States and Russia, then the Soviet Union, were in a state of political hostility marked by threats and propaganda.

Today, Russia’s cyber interference in the 2016 U.S. election has created antagonism and embroiled the presidency in investigations.

And, like today, Eisenhower faced tension with North Korea. He took office two years before the start of the Korean War, when North Korean troops backed by the Soviet Union invaded South Korea. Americans, fearing the spread of communism, sent troops to support South Korea.

Today North Korea, in an effort to demonstrate its power, is openly testing nuclear weapons.

Such situations illustrate why electing political leaders is so important, Brighton Gardens residents said.

People who are able to get to the polls - and don’t - “are the same ones who complain,” Nowakowski said. “If things are wrong, it’s your fault. People my age, some have dementia. They would love to vote if they could.”

Low turnout?

Nursing home resident Peter Sbarbaro, 53, filled out an absentee ballot when registrar officials visited on Oct. 24.

“It’s right,” Sbarbaro said. “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.”

But so far it looks like many Stamford residents aren’t thinking about Nov. 7, when they are set to elect a mayor, city representatives, and members of the boards of finance and education.

Judging by the number of absentee ballots returned so far, election turnout could be low. Town Clerk Donna Loglisci said that, as of Thursday, her office had received 591 absentee ballots. Just five days before the election, it is far fewer than the 1,623 absentee ballots that were counted in the last mayoral election in 2013, Loglisci said.

It’s a shame, Syc said. She remembers turning 21 with anticipation.

“I couldn’t wait to be able to vote,” she said. “I felt very important.”

It’s because elections are important, she said.

“If you vote for somebody who makes a good mayor, they may end up being a good governor, and maybe a president,” she said. “But if you sit back at election time and don’t do anything, how are you going to help our country?”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com.