Lincoln, Ferrisburgh and Starksboro get vote tabulators
LINCOLN — A new state law is requiring three Addison County communities to swap manual ballot counting for automatic tabulators, beginning with the next general elections.
At issue are some tweaks that lawmakers made last session to the state’s election laws that now require communities with more than 1,000 registered voters to use automatic tabulators for counting ballots in general elections. The change officially takes effect on July 1 of next year, according to William Senning, director of elections for the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office.
The new change is affecting 18 Vermont communities, including Lincoln, Ferrisburgh and Starksboro. Town clerks in those communities confirmed last week that they have received the new machines (paid for with federal money) and are receiving training to operate them properly come election time.
Lincoln Town Clerk Sally Ober is planning to use the machine for a trial run for Town Meeting Day next March.
“As the clerk of this small town which has been hand-counting ballots, this feels like a big change, and I want voters to know about it before they show up at the polls,” Ober said through an email.
“I expect the November 2016 presidential election to draw a large number of voters, and I would like to have some practice with using the tabulator prior to that event,” she added.
Automatic tabulators have already been in use for several years in larger Addison County communities like Middlebury, Bristol, Vergennes, New Haven and Monkton. It’s a transition that will now be made in Lincoln, Ferrisburgh and Starksboro, which have for more than two centuries mobilized their Boards of Civil Authorities and other election workers to initiate hand-counts. This longstanding practice has burnished Vermont’s Rockwellian veneer and provided a couple of opportunities each year for folks to provide a civic service while catching up with their neighbors at the same time.
But hand counting has also provided tedium and occasional human error during big-turnout elections — particularly presidential runoffs, when upward of 60 percent of a town’s voters might show up at the polls. This reporter can recall at least one instance during the past 25 years when counters in a ballot-swamped town clerk’s office have thrown in the towel at around midnight on election night and resumed tabulating the next morning.
This latest change in the election law is designed to give more communities the technology they need to count ballots as quickly and accurately as possible, according to Vermont Secretary of State James Condos.
“The Secretary of State’s Office strongly supports the use of tabulators to perform vote counts in our larger towns and cities,” Condos said. “Year after year, these tabulator systems have proven to be the most simple, accurate, and efficient way to count votes following an election. Every town that has switched to tabulators has reported back to us that they are happy with their decision — that it makes their post-election counting process fast, easy and accurate.”
It should be noted that while the tabulators are being provided at no cost, the communities will have to share in the costs of reprogramming the machines prior to elections. The state, according to Senning, will cover the first $500 toward reprogramming, a function that he said can cost $1,000 to $1,500 for primaries and upward of $500 for general elections. The higher cost for primary elections is largely associated with the multiple party ballots.
It should also be noted that communities with more than 1,000 registered voters don’t have to use the tabulators for local elections.
Ferrisburgh Town Clerk Gloria Warden was pleased to see her community’s tabulator arrive a few weeks ago.
“I’m excited about it,” she said.
But Warden is also glad to have the flexibility of reverting to hand counting for non-federal elections in which the turnout is expected to be low and perhaps not warrant the cost of reprogramming the automatic tabulator.
“People like coming out and counting,” Warden said. “And we will still need people to help.”
Amy McCormick is assistant town clerk in Starksboro, which also received its tabulator a few weeks ago.
“It seems very user-friendly,” she said of the machine. “We are scheduled to have one more training on it.”
She acknowledged a little trepidation among some residents about the switch.
“Everyone is a little nervous because it is new, but I think it will be great,” McCormick said. “It’s easier.”
Starksboro officials are considering using the machine for Town Meeting Day voting next March.
Ober expressed some mixed feelings about Lincoln’s acquisition of the new technology. She works 18 hours most election days and confessed to being a little envious of her Bristol counterpart’s ability to wrap up counts fairly early as a result of having a vote tabulator. And while she won’t miss the late nights, Ober will miss her volunteer counting crew.
“Our crew that does this work is great,” she said. “They are always right on (the numbers).”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].