Yesterday was voting day in Ashfield. Ashfield doesn’t mess around with any sort of voting tom foolery; in Ashfield you walk in and introduce yourself at the CHECK-IN table on the left to the people you live next door to by giving them your name and your address. Then you tell them what way you stand in your voting registration and they give you the Reader’s Digest version of a ballot: Bright-colored depending on your party and in 72-point type words you get all the candidates, where they’re from, what government job they’ve been doing up to today if any, and a big box for a potential X beside each name.
Then you go to a long wooden shelf divided up into non-transgressionable sections by more wood, where you’ll find a number-two golfing pencil, and you lay your ballot there on the shelf and you write big Xs by your favorites. Then you fold it back up.
Then you take it to the CHECK-OUT table and hand it to your neighbor on the other side, ask about his mama and why he wasn’t at dinner last Friday night, was he okay? Oh, just going to visit the nephews, well that’s good, I was a little worried when you didn’t show up. My name? Nan Parati. And they check you off the list.
And then you take your ballot to the box. A large wooden box built at the onset of the industrial age, I’d say, with a crank on the side and rolling numbers on the front. You slide your folded-up ballot into the slot on the top and then the man turns the big, iron crank. Something inside that box (mechanics, not squirrels) grabs the ballot and sends it down to where you can’t at get it anymore and the number on the front turns and you are number 193. And all day people say, “What number were you?” “I’m 193.” “I was 324!” It’s good to keep track of that stuff.
Back in the day, if you were infirm and couldn’t get out of your car, the town clerk would bring a ballot out to you so you could make your Xs in the private voting booth of your Buick, but those days went out with the Great Police Chief Scandal of ‘09. Now we’re less accommodating, but more serious about our voting. You can’t come in, you have to vote absentee even though you’re just out there in the car while your husband’s inside, voting. But that’s what keeps us serious.
Now, I have been a big fan of Natalie the “establishment” candidate replacing Steve Kulik this year for State Senate. I was a big fan of Steve’s too – he used to come to Elmer’s on a regular basis and hold meetings there or just come in to take the temperature of Western Massachusetts breakfast-eaters. Just about everybody loved Steve, and Natalie was Steve’s recommendation for who should follow him in that office.
While I’m not a phone-caller, (all those years in public-business owning I laid low on my political leanings, as one loud opinion could cost me a whole lot of money and, this being my first election since selling the place, I haven’t grown out of that phobia yet) I do now express quiet opinions to those who might be undecided. My years of political quietude probably makes my opinion a little more interesting as nobody knows what I was thinking.
So I was walking home from the post office yesterday morning and I saw Brian Dickinson walking Tuffy, his Little Tiny Dog home from the gas station.
“Who you voting for?” I asked him.
“Is it voting day?” asked Brian.
“Yup,” I said, “Who have you decided to vote for?’
“Oh, I don’t even know who’s running!” he said.
“Well, in that case, you should vote for Natalie Blais.”
“She’s the best qualified candidate – has worked in state government for several years; I’ve worked with her in her position at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce for about a year now and I know she’s good. She has great ideas and follows through on them. She has a lot of experience and that’s what we need.”
“Well,” said Brian, “I don’t know. I wasn’t gonna vote.”
“And she’s pretty.”
“Oh she’s pretty, is she?”
“She’s REAL pretty. You’d like her a lot.”
“Well if she’s pretty, then,”
“She’s pretty. And nice.”
“And nice, too, huh? Well maybe I’ll vote for her.”
“You do that!” I said. “Don’t forget! Natalie Blais. Natalie. You remember that name. Natalie.”
“I can remember that,” said Brian. “Natalie. Okay.” And he and Tuffy ambled on home.
Now it comes to the vote counting. No influencible, hackable, chad-hanging shenanigans going on in Ashfield; we count the votes! Fifty ballots at a time. Two people, sworn in by Bridget the Town Clerk where you hold up your right hand and everything. No Bibles are involved, though. Massachusetts don’t hold with Bible-swearing.
Sandy Lilly and Faye Whitney have been counting ballots together so long they can fly through 300 ballots in the time it took Amy Shapiro and me to count 50. We asked them their system and they said, “No spaces.”
So you get your stack of ballots and your spread sheet with all of the candidates’ names and a grid with a number for each ballot at the top.
One of you (Amy) takes the first ballot and reads out, “Governor: Bob Massie.” And you, the recorder (me) puts a check beside Bob Massie’s name.
“Senator: Elizabeth Warren” And you, the recorder put a check beside Elizabeth Warren, who’s running unopposed, much to the daily irritation of the president. Calvin Coolidge was the mayor of Northampton, just down the road, back in 1910 and 11, before he left that office to run and win the office of state senator. Imagine the local excited murmurs by the recording teams when they made individual checkmarks by Warren G Harding’s name for president back in 1920, when Calvin Coolidge was Harding’s running mate! (Harding died in office so people didn’t get to put check-marks by Coolidge’s name for president, he just stepped up at that point.) But that’s how we vote in Ashfield for presidents, too. And how we count them. By the second ballot you’re calling out just their first names, you know them so well, and while you’ve been sworn in and will indeed do your job as honestly as the day is long, you can’t help but say, “Natalie!” when putting another check-mark by her name, noticing that she is getting the most votes.
And in that stack of Democratic ballots there was one ballot with one big X beside Natalie’s name. Nothing else checked and we figured we knew whose it was. I’m gonna have to introduce him to Natalie just so he can see how pretty she really is. He’ll be glad he voted how he did.