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Below the dome, underground democracy

At State House, voters hit bottom

The halls of the State House were quiet Tuesday, as senators, representatives, and the people that usually surround them stayed home in their districts to vote in the primary election.

But in the basement, in Hearing Room B2, democracy was still at work. Here, the voters of Ward 5, Precinct 3 cast their ballots, in one of the most famous of their neighborhood's historic buildings.

To execute their civic duty, the Beacon Hill residents stepped through metal detectors at an entrance on the north side of the building, passed guards, entered the hearing room in front of them, and, like members of every other community, voted.

Otherwise known as the Massachusetts Room, the hearing room is decorated with late-18th- and early-19th-century city maps drawn by an artist who observed several of the state's cities from a hot-air balloon, according to Eric Corson, a Department of Conservation and Recreation ranger on duty at the polls.

Corson said he had bought a print by the artist that depicts his hometown of New Bedford. It sits on the wall above his bar, ''right above my Three Stooges picture," Corson said.

Throughout the day, voters trickled in and inserted their ballots into the counting machine, which read 78 at 11 a.m. and included all absentee ballots.

One of those ballots belonged to one of the most famous members of the neighborhood, Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry, who was away campaigning in Milwaukee.

''The senator has voted," said Boston Police Sergeant Joseph Dashner, assigned to keep watch over the polling location.

''He's all checked off," Dashner said, leaning back in his chair, one eye on the room's activity, one on a newspaper.

Judy Perry of Dorchester, one of six volunteers assigned to run the polls in the State House, logged the name of every person who came through the door, even if they were not voting.

One name on the log was City Councilor Maura Hennigan, who came to drop off coffee and doughnuts, shake hands with volunteers, and thank them for their work.

''I'm trying to get to as many locations as I can," Hennigan said.

When volunteer Thomas Nolan asked if she wanted a doughnut, Hennigan demurred.

''If I had a doughnut at every stop," she said, ''I'd be in trouble."

On this primary day, the voters were relatively few and the stakes not nearly so high as in some elections.

But for volunteer Margaret Rowland-Thompson, it was ''still an exciting day, no matter what."

Thompson, who has worked the State House polling location for many years, reflected on the opportunity to cast her ballot in such a special place, under the glow of the golden dome.

''It's a gorgeous feeling," she said.

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