Friday, November 5, 2004
Behind the scenes on Election Day
On Wednesday night, October 27, about 25 people gathered in the Clark Room at Town Hall for an election workers' training session led by Town Clerk Charlene Hinton. This group, a little over a third of the number of people working the polls on November 2, received some background into the new election law and state regulations that applied to voters on Tuesday and in effect for at least the foreseeable future. Hinton reported that the federal government mandated changes in the conduct of elections for better efficiency and accountability in voting and vote counting, but left the methods for meeting the new standards up to the individual states. "Needless to say," she joked, the Massachusetts regulations "make you want to get out your firearm sometimes, but you can't bring that to the polls without getting arrested."
Armed instead with information and handouts from the training session, I reported for my very first duty at the polls at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning. Election Warden Harriet Fortier greeted me at the door and told me to begin my shift by casting my own ballot. At 8:03 a.m. mine was the 507th ballot cranked into our beloved old ballot box. The polls had been open for only two hours, and that number heralded a strong turnout.
Casting 150 ballots
Fortier immediately assigned me to Phyllis Hughes, who was already hard at work processing absentee ballots. As it turned out, my own ballot was the first of about 150 that I cast during my shift. As Hughes checked off the absentees, I slit the envelopes containing their ballots and organized them by streets. Then we formed a team with other election officials to check each one through the entrance and exit checkers, remove them from their envelopes intact, and pass them into the ballot box. With over 400 absentee ballots to process, I stayed on duty with the Hughes team for five hours.
During the course of the morning, other election workers traded positions, sharing the duties of checker, "town crank" (who cranks the ballot box), and absentee ballot processor. In addition, people took turns handing out ballots to voters, and checking identifications and possible provisional ballots with Hinton and Assistant Town Clerk Irene Blake. Officers of the Carlisle Police Department were on hand as well, doing housekeeping chores like opening the ballot box to permit Hinton to re-ink the interior stamp that marks each ballot as cast. They also assisted in emptying the box when it became full and storing the ballots securely for later counting. There were, of course, more officers outside handling traffic. Everybody was busy, and everything seemed to be running briskly and efficiently.
A steady stream of voters
The voters kept coming in a steady stream. People were generally quiet and businesslike, and conversations were friendly but short as people moved as quickly as possible through the Clark Room. There were some lines in the lobby as voters waited to check in, but there didn't seem to be any long delays. A number of parents came with their children, and some explained each step of the process to the future voters as they went along. Among several parents with very young children, one mother brought her baby and toddler, appropriately dressed for the day in red white and blue with a flag pattern on the baby's sweater.
I heard only one complaint, and that was an objection to the use of pencils to mark ballots. The argument was that pencil markings could be erased. Hopefully we can reassure that voter that since none of the pencils have erasers, no one but the voter touches the ballot until it is removed from the ballot box, and vote counters use only red pens, it is unlikely that ballots will suffer tampering. In addition, every election worker must be prepared to swear at any time that he or she has handled the ballots only in the proper manner. The election officials, police, Town Clerk and Assistant Town Clerk, and Election Warden were all vigilant in their efforts to avoid any mishap with the voting process, and everyone working at the polls was dedicated to what the Massachusetts regulations call "the intent of the voter."
Two-thirds voted by 1:00 p.m.
My shift was over at noon, but I stayed an extra hour to process ballots and see how quickly we could reach the 2,000 mark. Sure enough, by the time I left just after 1:00 p.m., there were 2,044 ballots showing on the ballot box. Two-thirds of the voters in Carlisle had already turned out to cast their votes. There was still much to be done; clearly there would be at least a 90% turnout or better, which meant that the town cranks would have tired arms and the checkers writers' cramp. I came home to write and file this report, feeling humbled by my fellow townspeople, who participate in this process in their numbers with pride and sense of purpose, and who support each other as neighbors and friends regardless of political affiliation. Bravo, Carlisle! This is the way it's supposed to work.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito