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Small-Town Voting: A Hawley, Massachusetts, Poll Worker Reports

On Tuesday I worked the afternoon and evening shift — from 2 p.m. until 10:45, when all of the votes had been counted and recounted and checked once more.

I don’t actually love tabulating the votes. I do love seeing other townspeople, especially during this pandemic year when we don’t get to meet often. And I enjoy knowing that I’m helping democracy function.

Hawley, Massachusetts, cast 231 votes, a record in this town of 330 people. Eighty-two percent of the electorate turned out or voted early by mail or in person.

Six people worked our shift: the town clerk, her election supervisor and four people manning the registration and voting tables. My job was simple: turn the crank in our ballot box when someone placed a ballot in the slot.

Residents of Hawley, Massachusetts, slip their ballots into this box.
Credit Tinky Weisblat
Residents of Hawley, Massachusetts, slip their ballots into this box.

Around 5:30, the supervisor took over my post briefly while I zipped home to heat up quiche for everyone. My dog and cat were thrilled by this assignment.

Most of the day was quiet. In between clumps of voters, we processed the early and mail-in votes — more than half of the total.

We came across one ballot that represented the fear of many in our country: It came from a dead person. Margaret Eggert passed away in her sleep a couple of weeks ago, but not before sending in her ballot. Town Clerk Pam Shrimpton explained that — according to the state — we could still honor Margaret’s electoral wishes.

The rest of the time was spent sharing news of our neighbors, crocheting, and contemplating the election. We discussed the pros and cons of the Electoral College. Most of us agreed that it seemed out of whack, but as residents of a small town in a big state we could see its virtues.

Our oldest poll worker, nonagenarian Elvira Scott, met one of her neighbors for the first time when he voted that evening. “When I was little, we knew everybody,” she mused.

Despite the sadness in her voice, I was heartened. There were few voters no one knew, and the day gave townspeople a chance to greet each other, support the historical society through its bake sale, and come together with a joint purpose.

I wish we could replicate this experience on a national level. Well, maybe not the bake sale. I don’t think I could make enough oatmeal cookies.

Tinky Weisblat is a writer and singer who lives in Hawley, Massachusetts.

Tinky “Dakota” Weisblat is writer, a singer, and a historian, who lives in Hawley, Massachusetts.
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