By Merisa Sherman
A few years ago, a friend of mine moved to Killington from Philly and was very excited to vote in her first Vermont election. She was concerned however, with how much time she would need to set aside in her work day. Would two hours be enough time to vote, she asked, I was confused for a second and then laughed out loud. My reply was instantaneous and full of laughter — it depends on how long you talk with the poll workers, I guess. Her face was serious, not understanding what I was referencing. It takes two hours to check in and out? She asked again. Oh no — it can take two hours only because everyone is talking and chatting and generally enjoying the process.
She was still confused and I left the conversation giggling to myself. Small town voting is a completely opposite experience to the long lines you see on television all the time. There are no lines, except if the person in front of you is involved in a long conversation with the poll worker about something happening in their neighborhood or everyone is laughing so much during the voting instructions that they have to be repeated several times in order to get through the whole thing.
Every year is a little bit different, but this primary we had the added privilege of reminding grown adults to color within the lines when filling out one of their three ballots. The jokes are flying on the side as we work our way through the directions and ask someone that we’ve known our entire lives to state their name and address loudly enough to be clearly heard. We don’t need proof of identification, because each person is known by at least four people in the room, if not all of us.
That’s right. I serve my community as a poll worker. We have a dedicated training session, we take an oath to serve our town to the best of our ability. Which means that in between the passing of stories and the silliness, we have to put on our most serious faces to perform this most serious duty. As someone steps up to your station, the joking stops and we switch to our grown-up voices and perform our civic duty.
But in-between the seriousness of it all, is the reunion aspect. The time where we get to check in with folks we haven’t seen in quite some time and meet new voters who have just moved to town. It is a privilege to welcome those new voters to our community with a smile and a story.
Because the stories never stop. There are stories about those good old days at the Wobbly Barn and even earlier than that. Or tales of when someone’s dad was their French teacher way back when they were little but now they are all bigger and older and won’t stop telling stories that have several chapters that somehow circle back around to the original purpose of the story.
And eating. Oh my goodness. Local restaurants and citizens donate food so that we have something to do in-between the big rush of voters. The big rush today was seven people. It was very exciting. Between trying to figure out the HVAC system, eating food, handing out ballots and sharing overly long stories, it can be a very busy day. (It’s been the same HVAC system for at least five years and we still don’t know how it works).
When my friend came down the stairs at the town office to vote that first time, she finally understood. All the workers were smiling and greeted her warmly, enthusiastically welcoming her to town as they checked her in and handed her the ballot. All the stress of voting faded away as she realized what a wonderful experience voting in a small town can be.