The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 3, 2006


Harriet Fortier recalls 42 years of voting in Carlisle

Harriet Fortier appears at the Clark Room in Town Hall as a voter in the State Primary on September 19, not in her accustomed role as Election Warden. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

If there is anyone who knows more about what has been going on at the polls in Carlisle for the past 42 years, it certainly has to be former Election Warden Harriet Fortier. After a case of double pneumonia over the summer which put her in the hospital for 15 days, Fortier decided it was time to ease off on some of her usual activities in town, which included the role of Election Warden. So, for the first time in many years, Fortier was not on hand for the September 19, State Primary Election at Town Hall, except, of course, as one of the voters. Her role was taken over by Eva Herndon, who had served as Deputy Election Warden, with Kerri Piette filling in as the new Deputy Election Warden.

Working at the polls in 1964

"What was it like working at the polls back in 1964 when you first began?" I asked last week as we sat at the kitchen table in her home on Woodbine Drive. "It was a time when I still had children at home," responded Fortier. "Edna Biggi called me because they needed a registered Democrat to even out the counting pairs of a Democrat and a Republican." This was a time when Republicans heavily outnumbered Democrats in Carlisle, she recalled. "I was asked to just count that year, in the Brick School House on School Street where the election had taken place.

"The first person I counted with was Phyllis Towle," continued Fortier. "I really enjoyed her. She liked to work at the ballot box and greet her friends as they cast their ballots. She was affectionately called 'the Town Crank' and she was the sister of Edna Biggi."

Election sites, all around town

After 1965, elections were held in different locations in town. For several years residents voted in Union Hall, where Fortier continued in her role as a counter. Later, at the Spalding School Auditorium/Cafeteria, Fortier worked at the polls for Election Warden Lucy Goshgarian, on duty during the day as well as counting in the evening. Then it was on to the Town Hall on Bedford Road, also the home of the Gleason Public Library. In 1979, Town Clerk Ellie Cochran asked Fortier to take over as Town Warden when Goshgarian left for a full-time job. There were several other moves ­ to the Corey Building vestibule and the Corey Exercise Room ­ before a permanent polling place in the Clark Room at the new Town Hall was established in 1997.

Polls opened at different times

Before 1974, polls would open at 10 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. However, Fortier remembered hearing about a State Primary election in 1960 for which the polls were only open from 2 to 8 p.m. In 1974 things changed with the polls opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m. "By then, there were people living in Carlisle who worked a distance from town. There were more professional people working in Boston who needed a longer time to get to the polls," remembered Fortier. In the early days, poll workers were paid for their services. Nowadays, most poll workers are volunteers. As Fortier was quick to add, "Volunteering at the polls is a great way to get to meet a lot of nice people."

Election Day, November 7, 2006

The elections to be held in Carlisle on Tuesday will be a State Election and a Special Town Election (See pages 10-11 for ballots). Elections held during the year include Annual Town Election in May, Primary Elections in September and the November General Election. As you can see, the Election Warden has a busy schedule throughout the year.

Voting unenrolled

If you were entered as an unenrolled voter before 2004, after voting in either party's primary you had to fill out a form to go back to unenrolled status. Many voters forgot to fill out the form and were upset at the next primary election when they were no longer unenrolled and had to take a ballot for the party they had chosen in the last election. Those rules have now changed, and an unenrolled voter, no matter which ballot he or she takes, remains unenrolled.

"We have a curious and well-behaved electorate in Carlisle," said Fortier, "even when they have to wait in line." Over the years Fortier has worked for three Town Clerks ­ Ellie Cochran, Sarah Andreassen and Charlene Hinton. "It has been a pleasure working with all three," she told me.

As our interview was about to end, Fortier had an additional thought she wanted to share. "One of the perks of the election being held at the new Town Hall on Westford Street was the coffee waiting for us at 6:30 a.m. when we arrived election morning, compliments of custodian Peter Duffany."

For the poll workers, Nadine Bishop said it all: "In my experience, Harriet was so helpful, so encouraging and always so very pleasant to work with." And let me add, those same poll workers, I am certain, will miss her delicious chocolate-chip cookies when there is time for a break, especially after a long line of voters has passed through the polls.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito