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Delaney: Paper Ballots

10/25/12 5:55PM By Dennis Delaney
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(Host) One of the many things former State Senator and commentator Dennis Delaney cherishes about living in Vermont is our brand of "small town democracy".

(Delaney) I love how democracy is practiced in small towns. And resting comfortably within my definition of "small town democracy" is paper ballot voting and hand counting.

In my town of Charlotte that means that when you go to vote the clerk hands you a sheet of paper, or maybe more than one, on which you find the names of candidates who want your vote. Sometimes an issue, or a constitutional amendment, needs a decision as well. You make your choices privately in a makeshift closet with a curtain for a door. You try not to sneeze while you're in there so you don't knock it down!

Now consider this. Quite soon you will go to vote for Barrack Obama or Mitt Romney. After 100s of millions of dollars have been spent by these two candidates to promote themselves you will take an inexpensive sheet of paper and a stubby pencil on a string, and you will vote for the leader of the free world.

Early the same evening friends and neighbors, the "counters", in pairs, will add up the checks or the X's on the ballots. The town clerk tells me that this year there will be 50 counters. In charge of the process is the town clerk - as serious about the process as - say - a General Patton with his army.

You can't, however, do this serious work of democracy, hand counting the ballots, without some energy to sharpen the focus so out come the snacks, the cookies, the famous egg salad sandwiches, and even pizza.

It seems to me that this event in Charlotte effectively trumps any political hype and swagger. I don't think Norman Rockwell ever tried to capture on canvas the hand counting of election ballots in the local gym or cafeteria. And that's a shame because it's a fascinating celebration of democracy - a civilizing light on a dark November night.

Some folks do scoff at anything less than the latest technology and they make very good points. Just go to Google and read them to your heart's content. But also keep in mind that technology was the culprit in Florida in the 2000 presidential vote between Bush and Gore - remember the "hanging chads"? It took no less than the United States Supreme Court to figure out what the voters were saying.

A few years ago there was a bumper sticker that read " Vermont is what America used to be" - and if that's true, then Charlotte, like many other towns, is very patriotic.

But don't jump to the conclusion that Charlotte is a lonely island in a sea of high tech voting. Not so. Although 105 Vermont towns have indeed gone to high tech voting, 141 still count by hand.

Anxious candidates and the media with their looming deadlines press for quick results. But the town clerk takes whatever time is necessary to make sure the results are accurate. It reminds me of a wise old Latin saying, "Festina lente", which translates as "Make haste... slowly".
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