(HOST) As the state auditor’s race finally approaches the finish line next week after a statewide re-count, commentator Deborah Luskin reflects on what it’s like to be a “re-count counter”.
(LUSKIN) Counting votes is one thing, and recounting them quite another.
On election night in November, we count the votes in the firehouse, where we cast them, the same place we play Bingo and congregate for fundraisers. Everyone who can vote is welcome to stay after the polls close, pair up with a neighbor, and start to tally one of the races. There’s a certain amount of excitement, staying late to find out who won. There’s also a certain amount of fatigue, the counting coming as it does at the end of a Tuesday evening, after a long season of campaigning.
The recount, by contrast, takes place in the sober light of a December morning, not at the firehouse, but across the street in the County Courthouse that is the centerpiece of our town. Re-counters are nominated by the county chair of each political party, and receive a summons in the mail.
In Windham County, we’ve already had a recount for a closely decided House seat, which gave some of us practice for the statewide event. The House recount was for a district that included five towns. The Statewide recount requires that we count all the votes in the county, which includes some big towns, like Brattleboro, and tiny towns, like Somerset, whose lone voter casts his vote with Dover.
The Clerk of the Court is in charge of the recount. He has the ballots, in sealed bags, for safekeeping. As host, he assigns seating, ideally placing one member of each party at each table of four, but when he runs out of Progressives and Liberty Unionists, he seats Republicans and Democrats in mixed pairs.
The ballots are recounted before being distributed to the tables where the votes are counted – twice. First one person reads the votes while another keeps the tally, and the other pair at the table observes. Then they switch, and the votes are counted again.
Meanwhile, my job is checking the checklist, counting how many votes were cast town by town. My neighbor is collecting the tallies from the floor as the re-counters finish. This is the moment of truth, and it has nothing to do with the political race or its outcome and everything to do with the accuracy of our count. Do the total number of votes cast match the total number of ballots counted?
When the numbers match, we let out a cheer. This excites the partisan on-lookers, who might as well be watching paint dry. They look at us expectantly, thinking that we have momentous news about this race. Frankly, my head is so full of numbers and tallies, I’ve forgotten about the politics driving our work.
For a moment, I look across the courtroom, with its antique architecture and noble proportions, and I feel like a small gear in the wonderful mechanics of democracy ticking away with precision in my small corner of Vermont.
Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature to non-traditional students in hospitals, libraries and prisons throughout Vermont.