Friday, October 31, 2008

Wilton's Way to Count Votes Holds Up

Article published Oct 31, 2008
Wilton's way to count votes holds up

By STACY MILBOUER Staff Writer

WILTON – Come Election Day, poll workers in town will be sitting down on the job. Literally.

Sitting on votes is this town's way of preventing a miscount, and it's such an unusual method that it has been included in a documentary film being screened Sunday at the Wilton Town Hall Theater. That's upstairs from where ballots will be counted, and sat upon, this Tuesday.

The film is "Holler Back: (Not) Voting in an American Town." It explores why more people, especially young people, don't vote. It will be shown Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

"Holler Back," made by New York director Lulu Fries'dat, won the award for best documentary at this year's Sunscreen Film Festival in Florida.

Fries'dat came to Wilton and Lyndeborough during the election of 2004 to show towns that still hand-count votes.

All 322 voting precincts in New Hampshire use paper ballots. According to the secretary of state's office, 176 count them with AccuVote optical scanner machines while the rest – mostly smaller towns, including Wilton, Lyndeborough and Mont Vernon – count them by hand.

Fries'dat was particularly taken with the way Wilton has chosen to avoid miscounts.

The counting process goes like this, said Town Moderator William Keefe.

After people vote, they fold their ballot and hand it to the moderator, who puts it in a locked voting box. When the polls close, the ballots are removed and counted, then handed out to teams of four residents who sit at one table, two on one side and two on another.

Keefe expects a very high turnout Tuesday, possibly 2,500 of the town's 2,900 registered voters. He said he hopes to have six or eight teams, which ideally will have a mix of Democrats and Republicans.

The groups work off a tally sheet.

The first person reads the name of the candidate who was voted for, the second person watches to ensure the correct name is read out, then the ballot is handed across the table and the third person makes a mark on the tally sheet while the fourth person watches to see that the correct spot is marked.

The counted ballots are stacked in bundles of 25 and then, to make sure they're not counted again, someone sits on the stack – or puts a rubber band around them with a sticky note that says the bundle has been counted.

"It's primitive," said Keefe, "but it's effective."

Dennis Markaverich, owner of the Wilton Town Hall Theater, has been a counter/sitter in the past. He is shown in the film explaining this unusual practice.

The movie theater is upstairs from where voting takes place, so he decided to stay closed on the night of the election.

"If there are still lines when the polls are closed, I want there to be enough room for voters to park," said Markaverich. "Also I'd expect that people would want to run home and watch the returns and not want to spend the night at the movies."

The screening is sponsored by Women Making a Difference, a New Hampshire-based advocacy group.

For folks who can't wait until Sunday to see politically themed movies, the Town Hall Theater will be showing Frank Capra's classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. as part of its free vintage film program.

Stacy Milbouer can be reached at smilbouer@nashuatelegraph.com.

© 2007, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire

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