(HOST) Commentator Lee Michaelides says that voting machines haven’t entirely eliminated the volunteer ballot counter – and he ought to know.
(MICHAELIDES) When Norwich town clerk Bonnie Munday put out a call for volunteer ballot counters on election night, I decided to help. As this civic service didn’t require any formal training I felt I was fully qualified for the task.
When I arrived at the town hall just after the polls closed I learned that of the three paper ballots filled out by Norwich voters one had already been tabulated by a machine. We knew within minutes Norwich’s tallies for all the federal, state and local offices. Volunteer counters like me were needed to count the votes for the elementary school’s new wood-chip boiler, a bond issue for a new bridge and all the write-in votes the machine couldn’t count. First, about two dozen volunteers were sworn in. Then we divided into groups and got down to work. We had to sort the ballots, count the ballots, count the ballots again and finally we certified the final count.
My group worked on the wood-chip boiler ballots. The most difficult job of the night was opening the wooden ballot box. It was sealed with clear plastic tape that was hard to remove because we couldn’t see the tape. After opening the box all the ballots were taken out and placed into piles of “yes” “no” and “unmarked”. All the “yes” votes were counted into piles of fifty ballots each. A rubber band and a bright green sheet of paper marked “yes” was then placed around each pile of fifty. The volunteer who counted out the fifty signed his or her name on the green paper. Then each banded pile of fifty was recounted by a second volunteer who also signed the sheet. The process was repeated with all the “no” votes except we banded “no” votes with a hot pink sheet marked “no.”
It’s amazing how many voters can mess up their ballots when presented with the seemingly simple choice of “yes” or “no.” Before becoming a vote-counter I had mocked Florida’s hanging chads in the 2000 election, now I had sympathy for the Florida vote-counters. Like, um, what was I supposed to do with a ballot where someone marked an X in the “yes” oval and filled in the “no” oval?
Finally all the piles of fifty “yes” votes were added together and the results were reported on an official tally sheet, which the counters signed. Then we did the same with all the “no” votes. We were the first people in town to know that the wood-chip boiler proposal had passed by about 300 votes. Our work for the night was done. The table counting write-in votes had a tougher job. But they had the most fun. “Here’s a write-in for Wyatt Earp for sheriff,” someone across the room shouted. But every vote was counted.
Lee Michaelides is a free lance magazine writer and editor.