Counting the Ballots

One day before Election Day! Details and developments in this year’s election, presidential and local, have filled news networks, newspapers, conversations, and lawn signs for over a year

Tomorrow (we hope) it will be over. Decided. Finished. At least for 2016.i-voted-today

One of the many differences between this election and previous ones is the allegation by one of the candidates that the results are rigged. Maybe people vote more than once. Maybe dead people vote.

And, it’s true, voting machines do occasionally break down or malfunction. Not often, and usually quickly fixed, but it does happen.

But not in my home town.

My town (Edgecomb, Maine) has approximately one thousand registered voters, divided fairly evenly between Republicans, Democrats and Independents … with a liberal sprinkling of Green Party members. In past presidential elections about 80% of registered voters exercised their civic right and duty and showed up at the Town Hall on election day.

But there are no voting machines in Edgecomb. We vote the old-fashioned way. We count ballots by hand, and we double and triple check each other. And there have been no accusations of voter fraud. Ever. This year, I’ll be one of those counting.

I wrote that on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and one of my friends said voting by paper ballots was “quaint.”

Maybe so. But it works. Maybe not in a large city, where it would take days to count the ballots. But in a small town? Absolutely.

Registered voters walk into Town Hall, where a volunteer locates their name in a large ledger and checks the name off. Rarely, the volunteer asks the person who they are. Most of the time he or she knows. We’re all neighbors. No proof of identification needed.

Handed a paper ballot and a pencil, the voter goes to one of several open “booths” at the side of the room and fills in the oval next to the candidates of his or her choice. They then fold their ballot and slide it into the slot in a pine box on a table at the end of the room. (There are two boxes: the wooden box, used on election day, and another, blue metal, box that is locked until the polls are closed, which contains absentee and early voting ballots.)

No one remembers for how many years that wooden ballot box has been used – but estimates start at “at least a hundred years.” So — ballots for Roosevelt (maybe both of them) may have been placed in that box.


Polls in Maine close at eight p.m. Ballot counters (including my husband and I) will get to the Town Hall by 7:45, ready to work. (One of our fellow local ballot counters this year is, by chance, certified as an international election monitor. She’s monitored elections in the Middle East and Africa. So — in case of an unforeseen problem – we have an expert on hand!)

Ballots are removed from the two boxes, unfolded, and put in piles of fifty.

Then pairs of two voters (one from each major party) take each pile and place the ballots between them. Using the “verbal concurrent” method, they count the lot together, each keeping a tally sheet. One reads the office and the choice of candidate and marks it on his or her summary sheet. His partner repeats the office and candidate and enters the vote on her summary sheet. When the team completes all fifty ballots, they compare their totals. If tallies do not agree, they must recount.

No comments on results are permitted.

Each pile of fifty counted ballots and the two tally sheets are given to the Town Clerk, who checks that the tally sheets agree, bands the ballots with one tally sheet, and uses the other as input to a “grand tally” of town votes. Tally sheets are sealed in a tamper-proof container with the voted ballots.

Edgecomb Town Hall

Edgecomb Town Hall

The same procedure is done for referendum issues. (This year Maine has referendums on marijuana legalization, funding public education, firearm background checks, raising the minimum wage, and ranked choice voting. All important issues.)

Paper ballots are not valid if the voter signs or initials them, puts a symbol on the ballot that could identify him or her, adds a comment or statement, or votes for more than one candidate for one office. Stickers may not be used to vote for write-in candidates.

I don’t know how long it will take us to count the ballots tomorrow night. It will be my first time. I’m told by more experienced counters that sometimes they finish by 9:30 — other times not until 11:00. News bureaus sometimes call to check results. County police are on call during the process, and move between voting locations to ensure no problems arise.

It’s all a part of the democratic process in the United States. And, no matter what the results of the election, in my town, state, or even in the country — although I have preferences about what I’d prefer as the results — I’m proud to be part of the continuum of ballot counters that have kept our elections honest since the beginning.

It’s what we do in this country.

See you at the polls!

About Lea Wait

I write mysteries - the Mainely Needlepoint, Shadows Antique Print and, coming in June of 2018, the Maine Murder mysteries (under the name Cornelia Kidd.) When I was single I was an adoption advocate and adopted my four daughters. Now my mysteries and novels for young people are about people searching for love, acceptance, and a place to call home. My website is To be on my mailing list, send me a note at
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14 Responses to Counting the Ballots

  1. Terrific, Lea! I used to work at the polls in New Jersey. Nothing wrong at all with the old-fashioned hands-on voting.

    We voted early 2 weeks ago here in Nevada. Big load off our minds. Now all we do for the election is try to avoid all TV ads and hang up every time we get a robocall, which happens way too many times a day.

  2. Heidi Wilson says:

    Good for you, Lea! Our direct participation in our community’s politics (and everything else) is what keeps America great. And while I have a strong preference in this election, I will accept the result of our democratic process.

  3. Thanks for your service, Lea. It’s a serious responsibility.
    Our small town in NH also uses paper ballots, and I trust them more than machines. I’ll spend the day–after voting myself–stumping for the candidates of my choice in the 4 towns that comprise my district.

  4. Gram says:

    We too vote by paper ballot. But they decided that the person checking you in had to ask for your address – that’s how they find you in the ledger – and then you give your name – the same on the other end and then you are free to push that thing into the wooden box and they crank it in.

  5. Don Fairchild says:

    Lea, I can’t agree with you more as to how we Mainers conduct our voting business. And it is a credit to us for remaining honest.
    But sadly, Maine’s four electoral votes will not counter the hundreds of documented illegally cast votes throughout the country. Not just the counting of votes, but the busing of voters from one city to another to cast multiple votes, or the corrupt city officials losing, changing or altering ballots. These are documented cases of fraud, but yet nobody ever tries to remove those fraudulent votes, or correct the voting tallies.
    So here we are the modern day Diogenes holding our lantern looking for truth. I am fearful that our national election process is flawed. (See for documentation)

  6. Lea Wait says:

    What fun to hear how other people vote! And, of course, the important thing is that we all do. We’re so lucky to live in a country where every vote counts … and everyone accepts the results and continues on until the next election. Like jury duty, voting is both a right and a privilege. I’m looking forward to Tuesday night …. to playing my part, and to finding out the national winner. But I also know that Wednesday morning … no matter who wins … our country will go on.

  7. In St. George, population about 800, we also vote by paper ballot. The local issue and candidate ballots go into a box that must be similar in age and design to the one you describe. The state and national ballots go into a machine that tallies the choices. This latter is a recent development. As a voter who has voted in large cities before moving here 39 years ago, I much prefer this personal, more direct way of voting. Thanks for describing the counting process.

  8. Ruth Nixon says:

    I really enjoyed this blog as voting in California is very different. We don’t count for much except in State and local elections due to time differences. I remember standing in line waiting to vote and the winner was declared but still voted I remember Truman holding up a newspaper and it said another man won But I’m glad to be able to vote on the ones that count, our federal senators and congressmen and even my mayor. My ballot is 3 pages long.

  9. So glad you and Bob are part of the process in your town. I don’t help count ballots, but will be at the polls in a nearby town tomorrow as a legal monitor, in case issues arise with voter challenges, electioneering near the polls or any other issues that might disrupt or taint the vote. It feels good to be part of the process.

  10. Lea Wait says:

    Loving everyone’s comments –here and on Facebook. And especially love that so many of my friends are monitors (thank you, Brenda!) or poll sitters (so many!) or will be counting, as I will be. No matter what your party, I think we agree our country is ready to leave campaigning behind, and go on to governing. May it be so.

  11. Skye says:

    Good luck, tomorrow, Lea; I think we will all be happy when this is over.

  12. Aileen Nowatzki says:

    It’s a wonderful way to wholly participate in the election process. It won’t work for Los Angeles but it does show that America is great and has been since its inception. We all share and do our best to keep values and customs alive for our children. Our best to everyone tomorrow!

  13. Lea Wait says:

    A-men, Aileen!

  14. Linda Baker says:

    Thank you for serving the nation and your Maine town in this most important election!

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