A Day At The Polls In Small Town America

I spent all day yesterday at the polls, fulfilling my duty as a town official to help oversee the election process. Except for a brief period (about 45 minutes) I was there from 15 minutes before the polls opened until almost two-and-a-half hours after the polls closed, making for a 14 hour day.

I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details about the process itself as there’s been more than a few people in the media and the blogosphere who have covered that topic again and again. No need for me to repeat it. Instead, I want to delve into my observations about the various people who came into the polls to exercise their constitutional franchise to elect those who would be running our county, our state, and our nation. (Elections for town officials doesn’t take place until March during Town Meeting.)

From the moment the polls opened at 7AM sharp there was a large crowd of people waiting to vote. In the first couple of hours we easily had 1000 voters come through our doors. That’s about one-sixth of the total registered voters in our town. By noon, we’d reached almost half. (I am including in that total the absentee ballots our town clerk had received.) Even without the absentee ballots included, we were on the path to hit 90%. But elections being what they were, we didn’t maintain that pace.

Once we reached noon, the pace had slackened and remained low in relation to what we’d seen earlier that morning. There was a steady stream of voters which kept everyone occupied, but it wasn’t like the crush we’d been dealing with. That all changed by 4PM when the next batch of voters arrived, those being the folks who were stopping to vote after getting out of work. It built pretty quickly until we were processing ballots as fast as our two ballot machines could handle them. There was a constant line of voters waiting to deposit their ballots into the counting machines.

At 6PM it was like someone had suddenly shut off the faucet. The lines disappeared and the flood became a trickle. Frankly, I was expecting it to remain busy right until the polls closed at 7PM. If it had, we might have hit that magical 90% number. Alas, it was not to be.

When all of the ballots were counted, checked, and write-ins and military absentee ballots tallied, over 78% of our voters turned out to cast their votes during the election. That’s pretty darned good, just not where we had hoped it would be.

One of the things I noticed missing about this election that I’d seen at previous elections: there was little exuberance or excitement being displayed. Instead, it was more of an atmosphere of grim determination to get in, vote, and get out. Most seemed to exhibit relief once they saw their ballots deposited in the ballot boxes.

More than a few expressed disdain for the major candidates- Clinton and Trump – saying it wasn’t that they were voting for a candidate as much as they were voting against a candidate. So many of my fellow townspeople were relieved that it was all over and that we wouldn’t have to be bombarded with TV and radio ads, the tons of campaign mailers that were stuffing our mailboxes, or the incessant phone calls from pollsters who wanted “just a few minutes of your time”.

More than a few voters took the opportunity to skillfully express their dislike of the candidates, with one clever fellow standing in line with a nose clip on his nose to “kill the stench” as he voted. More than a few people standing in line with him asked if they could borrow it when he was done with it.

One voter asked me if it was required that they fill out their ballot completely or if they could leave some of the ballot blank because they didn’t like anyone running for some of the other offices or whether the ballot counting machines would kick her ballot out because it wasn’t complete. After assuring her she could safely leave as many blanks as she wanted, she deposited her ballot in the box and fled.

I mention this because of something I noticed when we were checking ballots to determine f the counting machines mistakenly sorted ballots with write-ins into the wrong bin. (This is done to make sure that everyone’s ballot is counted, particularly the write-in votes.) More than few of the ballots I checked showed that voter didn’t cast votes for a considerable number of offices. I didn’t take the time to see specifically which ones were blank, but it appeared more than a few folks only voted for president and vice president, others just for governor or US senator. Others appeared to leave those offices blank and voted for their representatives in the New Hampshire House, Senate, and Executive Council.

I don’t know how common this is, whether it has been done in other elections, but it seemed there were a lot of ballots like those and I checked only a few hundred of them (out of 4800 ballots cast).

Having seen that, it reinforces the idea that I might be on the right track in calling for “None OF The Above” to be a valid choice during an election. We saw a few of those during the counting of the write-in ballots.

All in all, it was an interesting day at the polls. Now we all get to live with the consequences of our choices.