Burke’s Town Clerk Sees Changes In Northeast Kingdom

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(Host) It’s the sixteenth election year for Burke Town Clerk Priscilla Aldrich. So she’s seen a lot of changes in the way votes are cast in her corner of the Northeast Kingdom.

VPR’s Charlotte Albright talked with her a couple of times today as voters filed in and out of the rambling yellow frame town office on Burke Hollow Road.

(Albright) Priscilla Aldrich got drafted for this job many years ago when she dropped into the town office to pay her taxes.

Just to make conversation, she asked the outgoing clerk if a replacement had been found yet.

(Aldrich) "And he said, ‘No, want to apply?’ And I said, ‘No, thank you.’  Apparently he went to one of the selectman and said he thought I’d be a good candidate and the selectman started calling me. And I got to thinking about it and thought it was easy as pie, like we all do, when we first get in. But it’s been a great, great, career-I’ve really enjoyed it."

(Albright) This has been an unusually hectic month as more than 130 voters opted to vote early, or requested absentee ballots.

The day before the election, Aldrich and her helpers set up the room. No curtained booths, just four kiosks partitioned into four stand-up desks equipped with markers and instructions. Scanning tabulators are being used this year in Burke only for the second time, and when Aldrich ran a test, one of the cards flunked.

(Aldrich) They send us two cards. One of mine didn’t work, so I’m on one card right now with a prayer it works all day, but-yeah, there’s quite a bit to it-it’s kind of stressful.

(Albright) But Aldrich says it’s satisfying, watching her friends and neighbors do their duty. 

Perfectly coiffed, wearing a tailored gray suit, she stands front and center, herding them from the kiosks to the scanning machine–kind of like an elementary school teacher making sure the classroom is orderly, but not too scary. 

There are even home-baked cookies on a plate near a coffee machine-an old-fashioned touch in a new-fangled election.

Three minutes after the polls close, Aldrich can push a button to get an instant tally, ready to be reported to the Secretary of State and media outlets.

(Aldrich) "And it saves so many hours because we used to sit here with 20, 30 counters till 9:30, 10 o’clock, in the olden days."

(Albright)  But even though counting votes is easier than it used to be, Aldrich ends every election day dog tired, and worn-out from the polling place din. She says she’s glad she lives close enough to walk home, so she can get fresh air before  going to bed.

For VPR News, I’m Charlotte Albright, in Burke.


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