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Voting brings stress, nerves, and jubilation at a playground near Philadelphia

A volunteer firefighter from Sierra Leone votes for the first time.

Alhaji “Al” Saccoh just voted for the first time since becoming a naturalized American citizen last fall. CREDIT: Alan Pyke/ThinkProgress
Alhaji “Al” Saccoh just voted for the first time since becoming a naturalized American citizen last fall. CREDIT: Alan Pyke/ThinkProgress

ALDAN, PENNSYLVANIA — Alhaji “Al” Saccoh is scared about what this election has already done to his community, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at him.

He’s exuberant today. It’s the first time the 32-year-old Sierra Leone native has voted anywhere — and, after 16 years in the United States, it’s his first election as a naturalized U.S. citizen.

“And I voted for a woman too!” he said, laughing. “You can’t beat that.”

But the high Election Day emotions aren’t the only thing on Saccoh’s mind. He’s also worried about how other volunteer firefighters at the nearby Fire Department have started treating him since he first posted something positive about Hillary Clinton on Facebook earlier this fall.

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“How can I run into a burning building with these guys if they think I’m an asshole for [voting for Clinton]?” he said.

With the election just about over, he’s posted a Facebook invitation for a make-peace breakfast this Saturday. The Sierra Leonean emigré, who donates his time protecting his neighbors from calamity, is hoping that a little food and conversation will settle everyone down again. “People take things very personal in politics,” he said.

Another would-be Philadelphia voter, Jimi Alade, was pretty calm for someone who was just told he couldn’t cast a ballot in a historically close presidential election. The 28-year-old graduate student had time to wait for it all to get sorted out by volunteers. For today, at least, he had nowhere better to be than standing in the parking lot next to a suburban Philadelphia playground while other people argued about his fate.

Turned out the law is on Alade’s side. Though he’d been told he was “inactive” on the voter registry by poll workers, a legal monitor volunteering with the Hillary Clinton campaign got back from a coffee run 15 minutes later. After consulting the voting law manual he’d been given and double-checking through the “Lawyers Bound for Justice” app the campaign’s voter protection staffers are using, the volunteer realized Alade should be able to vote.

He did vote, just like he did in 2012. And on a regular ballot rather than a provisional one, after signing an affirmation that he had recently moved from the address listed on the rolls. It was the outdated address that triggered the “inactive” tag, as far as anyone could tell.

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A few moments after signing the required affirmation, Alade emerged from the small brown shed that serves as a polling place inside the Penn Pines Playground, beaming.

“I voted!” he said.

Saccoh, still energetic, bounded up to him. “Good job man!” The two, strangers before they got to this parking lot, embraced for a moment. Then Alade headed on his way.