Torn-Down Tuesday: Buffalo’s street corner voting booths

       By Steve Cichon

There was a time when just about every one of Buffalo’s 462 election districts had its own voting booth.

In the weeks leading up to any election, city trucks would start hauling the green sheds around the city and dropping them off at the hundreds of predetermined intersections, often on the street, and causing a traffic hazard.

A portable green voting shed at the corner of Cherry and Goodell in the mid 50s, before the neighborhood gave way for the Kensington Expressway.

The green painted wooden booths were adorned with an American flag and a tin chimney for the cast-iron stove inside. They were already decades-old when a teamster was paid $10 a day, driving two horses, to set out the booths throughout city neighborhoods in 1928.

Although there were still Buffalonians voting in the tiny shacks as late as 1970, Board of Elections officials had been looking for alternatives 40 years earlier.

“We would like to replace them with fire houses, police stations, branch libraries and other public buildings as voting places, to get away from cluttering up neighborhoods with the unsightly booths and to obviate the possibility of traffic accidents, by not having to place the heavy booths on street corners where there is danger of automobiles, in traffic congestions, colliding with them,” said one Election Board member in 1928, who also said similar proposals had been given the cold shoulder in the past.

By the late 1950s, there were regular traffic accidents with the often poorly placed booths, which had also worn down over 30 years of moving back and forth. There was another groundswell of enthusiasm for a different, more modern way to operate the city’s polling places, but the driving force behind keeping the old green sheds around was cost.

In 1958, more than 300 voting sheds were still set out each Election Day. City officials estimated the cost of hauling and maintaining the booths at about $20 for each polling place, but a study showed that number was closer to $50 per booth.

That $50 was still cheaper, though, than the average $250 to $350 it was estimated it would cost to keep other municipal buildings such as police stations and fire houses open for voters.

Election Day 1957, featuring one of the portable green voting booths, and signs for Frank Sedita and Ann Mikol among others.

With the fate of the old portable booths momentarily secured, County Supervisor Gus Franczyk sponsored a resolution investigating the heating of the booths. Old-fashioned pot-bellied coal stoves were the only source of heat on cold November Tuesdays.

Once again, the upgrade of the heating of the booths was abandoned over price concerns. The average cost to keep voters warm with the coal stoves was $5.41 per year, as opposed to $440 for new electric heaters.

The number of portable booths was down to 278 by 1967 when the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo offered space in its 68 parochial schools for voting. The Courier-Express heartily endorsed a plan set forth by then-Councilman Gus Franczyk to take the church up on the offer.

“Mainly it seems in order to rid the city of the obnoxious, obsolete booths by phasing them out as fast as possible. They have become costly obstacles to civic progress,” read the editorial page of the Courier.

In May 1969, the city began selling off the “antique voting booths,” stipulating that they should be given free to nonprofit organizations willing to move them. Among the early takers were a boys’ club and a Little League for equipment storage.

The election booth sheds were stored on city-owned lots all over the city, but a large number of them were kept on Appenheimer Avenue. The Dr. Lydia T. Wright School was eventually built on the spot that, for decades, was the home of voting booths for the 363 days a year when there wasn’t any voting going on.

If voting isn’t hard, you’re doing it wrong

By Steve Cichon

How do you vote? I’ve been doing it for decades now, and I’m still not sure how to do it.


In theory, sometimes it’s easy. There’s a good looking, charming, passionate, good-hearted candidate who shows leadership and with whom you mostly agree on most issues, and the other guy is a criminal buffoon with the mark of Satan on his forehead.

But it’s never that easy. If you’re doing it right, voting is hard. It’s generally the one chance in life we have to choose the people who are some way in charge of us on some level. If you could vote for your next boss at work, would you base it on the letter next to his or her name?

Those letters mean very little to me, as most of the time, they are only two or three talking points different from one another. Even conservative and liberal are ideas that seem to evolve more quickly than they used to, and views I think of as conservative all the sudden are liberal, and vice-versa.

The labels seem vague and useless, but what does matter to me often leaves me scratching my head, too. It’s different every time, and each race has different elements that are more or less important, but nearly every time, I wind up picking as I’m sitting there with my bubble sheet ballot. Just like at a restaurant with a big menu.

This gravy-covered entree sounds delicious, but will likely give me heartburn. I know I won’t be wowed with this lean meat and salad-y one, but it’s almost as tasty and way more healthy.  Sounds stark, but get the baked potato with the gravy one and the ranch dressing on the salad, they might be just about the same.

For me, the worst case election scenario involves two candidates who on paper seem equally appealing to me. One is a candidate who has the best heart, is passionate, positive and forward looking– but is a bit murky or just plain opposite of me on a bunch of big issues.

The other is a smarmy sort of guy– who if he was in business, you might recommend to a friend because he gets the job done– but you’d also recommend that your friend watch this guy, because you don’t trust him as far as you can throw him. This guy, though, shares your vision for the future of the city or the state or the world or whatever.

Isn’t that a tough choice? In my world, it seems to happen in every election. Maybe it’s my decades of “not being allowed to cheer in the press box,” and my role as someone who has to critically examine both sides every time.

I usually finding myself going with the good guy, with the hopes that he or she will make decisions based on what they truly feel is right for the community every time. Or at least most of the time, right? If there isn’t a good guy, I go with someone in whom I see passion. Even if I agree with someone, I can’t necessarily trust that person to do the right thing for the right reasons every time.

I think most people would agree with this, which is why so many polls show people hating Congress, but liking their Congressman. “I met my guy at a spaghetti dinner for the cub scouts and he was great; the other 434 can jump off a cliff.”

I think most of us are charmed by most of the politicians we meet, because they are generally civically minded people who are trying to do good.

There are very few politicians who are “evil,” or deserve to jump off a cliff. There are a few who are in it just for themselves, and maybe a couple more few who just like to see their names on signs on people’s lawns. But even most of those politicians have a pretty large measure of trying to do some good for the communities they serve. They are not evil sociopaths as they are sometimes branded by opponents or people on Facebook.

Sometimes good guys get caught up in baloney, but bad guys look for baloney to get caught up in. So gimme the good guy. I guess.

I find voting hard. I think it should be.

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