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Election Day Dinners: As American As Apple Pie

Most voters in Dallas end their Election Day observance at the polls. But, in the northeastern United States, electoral festivities typically conclude around a community dinner table.

According to Irv Dean, city editor for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, New York, there's "at least one or two" suppers in every town his upstate paper covers. His readers can choose from a ziti supper at St. Joseph's Church, a turkey dinner at Round Lake United Methodist or a pancake feast at the Reformed Church in Glen, among other options.

"Nonprofits see it as an opportunity to make money," Dean says with the right dose of city desk cynicism.

Around Schenectady, he adds, polling places are usually located in firehouses or churches, so organizations can appeal to voters' sense of convenience, if not their civic pride. Asked whether the surfeit of suppers was an indication of voter enthusiasm, Dean said "No."

"It's a chance to get a meal made by God-fearing church women for a decent price," he explains.

Election Day feasts were once a grand American tradition: In the early years of the republic, when a trip to the voting booth could be an all-day affair, politicians laid out fantastic spreads of fried chicken, fish and barbecue to entice constituents to show up and cast votes in their favor. Voters who marked their ballots correctly could expect to be "treated" with whiskey or rum.

Edible bribes are no longer legal, as a St. Paul, Minnesota, restaurant discovered this week after publicizing a promotion in which customers wearing "I Voted" stickers would receive 25 percent off their meals. According to a report in the Pioneer Press, the secretary of state's office warned Highland Grill that its discount was a violation of a federal law forbidding financial incentives for voting.

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"We thought we were celebrating democracy," Stephanie Shimp, the restaurant's shaken-up co-owner, told the paper.

Election Day meals aren't unknown in other parts of the country. The Rotary Club in Belton, south of Waco, is hosting a pancake supper tonight, although officials at the host elementary school this afternoon said nobody had yet arrived to start cooking.

That wouldn't fly in rural New York, where many of the meals are all-day affairs and have been for decades.

Dean said the dinners have been "going on for as long as I can remember, and that's a long time."

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