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What you don’t see at the polls

With the close of the 2019 municipal elections I ended my term as Ward 3 Selectman. In Nashua, Selectmen work the polls and, as such, we learn a lot about the behind-the-scene election process to which voters are not exposed.

Once the polls close and the machine tape is printed, workers collect the paper ballots from the voting box. In our recent election in Ward 3 this amounted to over 1,200 ballots. These ballots are in a pile sideways, upside down, etc. Think of 2 ½ reams of paper with writing on both sides that were thrown into a box one sheet at a time. These ballots are collected, put in order and separated with those containing a write-in vote put in a separate pile for processing. Write-in votes are then counted by hand.

Write-in votes are a way to ensure that election rigging can’t take place by keeping candidates off the ballot. Although write-in candidates rarely win, when a well-organized write-in campaign is mounted, as occurred in Detroit when Mike Duggan, candidate for Mayor, was kept off the ballot, the results can be amazing.

Too often, though, the write-in name has nothing to do with a legitimate campaign and effort to win. When a ballot contains one or two write-ins and there are perhaps 100-200 ballots like this, the process of recording these votes is tedious but doable. When a ballot contains ONLY write-in votes, and poll workers have been at the polls since 5 AM, it’s downright annoying.

In our recent municipal election, we had 20 seats open over 9 races. We processed some ballots in which EVERY race had a write-in for EVERY position. That meant we had to transcribe by hand 20 names onto tally sheets just to process that one ballot. 95% of these names only received one vote, but if the name was valid (not Donald Duck or Bugs Bunny, for example) it had to be written down. No write-in candidate made ANY difference to the election outcome.

So, for those of you who thought you were being “funny” or “cute” or “clever”, I can tell you that your behavior effects the integrity of our elections. First off, it took you a lot of time to write-in all these names. The ballots I saw that were completely filled in with write-ins had remarkably good penmanship. Someone clearly took the time to print each letter clearly. So, your time in the voting booth was exponential compared to someone who voted for a name on the ballot. In an election with a turnout of 16%, booths were available. But what about the Primary in February or the Presidential election next November. Is it fair for you to be in the booth 10 minutes to demonstrate your contempt for the election process?

Secondly, poll workers are all volunteers who freely give of their time as part of their civic duty. After a 16-hour day, when the important part of validating the results begins, is it really fair to them to take up their time with such silliness? Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time making sure that all ballots are accurately accounted for and tabulated correctly?

If you are a person who has done this or if you know someone who brags about this behavior, please let them know that it serves no beneficial purpose and is actually harmful to the process. No one, other than the poll workers writing down these names, ever sees the information.

In 2020, do any of us want to wait in line for hours because people are engaging in these activities? As Americans, we have a constitutional right to protest and voice our opinions. I would only ask that you do it in a way that respects the electoral process and, in the end, is more effective.