, Salem, MA

November 5, 2013

In Salem, Election Day is all in the family

Three generations of Cunninghams work polls in Ward 4, Precinct 2


---- — SALEM — Election Day in this city is a family affair. Go to any polling place today and you’re bound to find several members of the same family working the polls.

And no polling place is more family-friendly than Ward 4, Precinct 2. To most, it is the gymnasium at the Witchcraft Heights Elementary School. To some, however, it is Camp Cunningham.

Joanne Cunningham, 81, the family matriarch, is the warden in 4-2, which means she runs the show. She’s been working the polls in this precinct for nearly two decades.

Catie Cunningham-Dee, her daughter, is the clerk, or second-in-command.

Making his debut as a poll inspector at 4-2, checking off registered voters as they enter and exit, is Robert Dee, 19, Joanne’s grandson and Catie’s son.

That’s three Cunninghams working one polling place.

But this election is even more special.

Today is Catie Cunningham-Dee’s 57th birthday. “I told them they have to be extra nice to me (today),” she said.

Catie’s other son, JD, 18, a senior at Salem High, will be voting for the first time today. And, of course, he will vote at Ward 4, Precinct 2.

In past years, it has been even more of a Cunningham family reunion. Tom and Robbie Cunningham, both police officers and Joanne’s sons, have worked details at 4-2.

The Cunninghams would not miss this day for anything. Like many poll workers, they love Election Day.

“It’s exciting,” said Catie. “You get to see everybody. There are people I only get to see a couple of times a year, and one of those times is on Election Day. And I get to work with my mom.”

“It’s a long day, (but) it’s a wonderful day,” said Joanne, who started when votes were counted by hand and works now with computerized ballot machines. “I wish I could do it once a week.”

Although the Cunninghams may have the strongest link to a single precinct, there are many other couples and families who work together at the same polling place on Election Day.

Just to name a few, Margaret O’Brien and her mother, Elizabeth Fleming, are poll workers in Ward 1, Precinct 1; Joseph Szymanski and his wife, Barbara, are in 1-2; Cynthia and Maria Robinson, 2-1; Lou and Paula Malionek, 3-1; Janice and Winifred Condon, 5-1; Eugene and Florence Marchand, 5-2; Norman and Ann Michaud, 5-2; Stephen and Anita Pszenny, 7-1; and Rita and Manuel Pires, 7-2.

In all, more than 100 locals work the polls on Election Day, most of whom are not related. Each polling place has a warden, a clerk, inspectors and others who help out.

“I have an army,” said City Clerk Cheryl LaPointe.

In Salem and other communities, it tends to be a gray army, with the average age around 70.

“They are the sweetest people,” LaPointe said. “I never have to worry about them. They are so faithful, and they love doing this.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at