It was fun to be part of the solution rather than the problem today while helping out at our local town elections. There were only a couple of contested races, but Carlisle does elections the old fashioned way, so it was great to see it from the other side. The highlight of the day for me, of course, was to take a shift as Town Crank, cranking individual ballots into our old oak ballot box. Each voter checked in when they arrived, were given a ballot and pencil and moved to a private corral to mark their ballots. After they finished, they went to a second counter to check out, then to the Crank to insert their ballot into the top of the box while the Crank cranked the handle and rolled their ballot into the bowels of the ballot box. The box dings when the ballot is correctly entered, and the counter on the front of the box ticks up one with each ballot cast. I did have to provide my celebratory fanfare for the 500th voter since we didn't have so much as a sticker to share because of COVID, but I did my best to make it special for her nonetheless.
I had a couple of other jobs throughout the day. The first was to mark early ballots on a tally sheet, double check that the ballots were properly signed, then give them to the runner who officially cast the ballots for each voter in absentia. As with any government process, there are a strict list of protocols in place, and we were officially sworn in at the beginning of our shifts to make sure rules were followed. I also had a chance to check out voters before they cast their ballots, and I spent about an hour as booth sanitizer, wiping down the surfaces and sanitizing pencils between voters. Anyone who came in from 5-6pm could have eaten off the surface of those voting cubbies!
Selfishly, I did not just sign up for any random shift. Two friends signed up for the same slot so we could all work together. We shared duties, shared gossip, shared laughs and even shared a flower catalog as voter turnout in the late afternoon was a bit slow. Perhaps I needed a little more support than the others since It was the first time in 4 months that I was in another building other than my own home for more than a few minutes. It took a while for the feeling that I was going to pass out from my mask to dissipate, and my skin crawled just for the first half hour or so. I did use quite a bit of hand sanitizer over the course of the afternoon, but you forget how easy it is to make contact with another human being until you acutely avoid doing so.
There was a police officer assigned to the voting room for the entire shift. He sat in the corner with his mask, and he only got up to clean out the ballot box when we reached 300 voters, and to take a couple of calls that came in. At some point during the afternoon I made a wise crack about him not being "just another pretty face" when he came to clear out the ballot box as he wielded the official key. He chuckled kindly to humor me (and probably wrote down my address!), but stayed silent for most of the afternoon unless the Town Clerk needed him for official business. Just before 7pm, another good friend came in to cast her ballot. We were just minutes from closing the polls and were admittedly a bit stir crazy. We joked freely with her through check out and casting her ballot, then she exited by the back door to head home for dinner.
After the door closed, the police officer quietly got up from his chair and came over to the ballot box. He told the Crank that the box didn't ring, which mean her vote was not counted. We were dumbstruck, but sure enough, she turned the handle just a quarter turn more and the box dinged. I was completely right about him—he was much more than just a pretty face!
Five hours in Town Hall was enough for me, so I didn't sign on to be an official vote counter. Another group of 6 volunteers arrived at 7pm to be sworn in for the count, which probably won't take all that long to complete since just over 500 voters showed up today. I realize that today was just local elections and there were only 2 contested races, but I hope more residents step up in the future to either run for an office or at least cast their vote. It seems like residents don't bother to turn out for these small town elections because they seem inconsequential. These elected officials, though, hardly seem inconsequential when they are deciding whether to erect a cell tower in your back yard, remove a principal from the school administration or allow bow hunting on your favorite trails. Change starts at home, and we all need to take personal responsibility in electing people to office who share our values and beliefs. We have a big opportunity coming up to do that on a national level in a few months. I'm going to sign up to count that night and hope to be there until the wee hours of the morning to ensure that every last voted is counted.