Hello from North Haven!
It’s been quiet around here lately – most of my creative energy in the last few weeks went into the island’s fall theatrical production, 10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse and various other Halloween shenanigans. Then I was very, very tired and the power went out for a little while, and I went to Boston to see a really great concert and take Penrose to the Children’s Museum.
All good things, but none was ringing my blogging bell. Until this morning, that is. Today was the first Tuesday in November, that all-important day when we citizens head to the polls to weigh in.
The events of a year ago notwithstanding, I love to vote. I loved it when I stood in line first in Providence, as a college student, then as a grad student in Somerville. I loved voting, but didn’t have any particular affection for my polling place, be it a school or municipal building.
On North Haven, I still get the same kick out of voting, but it’s doubled by my affection for the town office and the competing formality and folksiness of the process. The polls are minded, from 10 am – 8 pm, by the town clerk, the town treasurer (who assumes poll warden duties for the day), and a registered Republican and Democrat (or a registered party member and an unenrolled voter) in two hour shifts.
One enters the town office through the side door, into a renovated meeting room. The first stop is at the voter list. Once registered, no ID is needed. One of the poll minders finds your name on their list and checks you off with a red pen. Next to them, their counterpart and political opposite hands you a ballot. Three flag-spangled voting booths are scrunched on the wall perpendicular, next to the chimney and the ghost of the fireplace that used to be the focal point of the room. Mugs with pencils are helpfully placed in the booths. Once the ballot is marked, the clock-wise circumnavigation of the room continues. The poll warden pauses her knitting to ceremoniously slide open the giant, locked, wooden ballot box and slide it shut again. Should one need to register, the town clerk is there with forms. Sometimes there’s a bowl of candy in front of her, and “I Voted” stickers.
Today there was no candy, and no stickers, but at 11 am turnout had been steady. My fellow high school teachers and I brought all 11 high school students who were present to the town office to learn about the voting process. Three of them are exchange students, and the other eight are under eighteen, so this was news to most of them. Their history teacher had prepared them by having them research each ballot question, and holding a mock election of their own. (Question 1 did not pass, 2, 3 and 4 did, which lined up with the state’s results!). We were shown the handicapped-accessible voting machine and the impressive lock box into which counted votes go in case of a recount, whereupon the state police arrive and quickly depart with the box in hand. We learned that registered Democrats outnumber unenrolled voters, who outnumber registered Republicans on North Haven.
My favorite tidbit of the day, though, was hearing that North Haven’s voter turnout is often 80 – 90%. Not necessarily for a referendum like today’s – although the town clerk reported 133 people showed up to vote – but when seats are up in the house or senate, or in the Blaine House, North Haveners visit the town office in droves.
Of course, we still don’t have to wait in line very often. The town clerk told us that at the busiest point in the 2016 election, all three voting booths and all four comfortable wooden chairs were occupied. And there was that bowl of candy, and some good conversation, and knitting progress to follow.
The public nature of voting on North Haven helps keep people turning out to the polls. And while our numbers our small, it’s nice to know that each of us has a voice in local – and sometimes national – politics.