Thanks But No Thanks: Some Maine Towns Prefer Hand-Counting to New Machines

[Image courtesy of cargocollective]

We talk a lot about modernization of elections on this blog, so it’s always interesting to find a story where a jurisdiction resists modern technology – and has perfectly valid reasons for doing so.

Sunday’s Online Sentinel has a story describing how Litchfield, ME and five other towns are politely declining the state’s offer to use new optical scan-machines:

The town of Litchfield has rejected a second state offer of a machine to tabulate state and federal election ballots in favor of continuing to count votes by hand.

Litchfield’s rejection was signed Tuesday by Rayna Leibowitz, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, following an earlier vote.

“When the ballot clerks were asked their opinions, nobody, nobody wanted the machines,” said Leibowitz, who serves as a ballot clerk when she’s not a candidate for office. “We just feel it’s too important a process to rely on the machines, and we’d miss out on the social opportunities here. It’s very much a team effort. We have some people doing it for years and years and years, and they absolutely love the process” …

Last fall, 67 hand-counting municipalities with more than 1,500 voters were offered a new, state-leased DS 200 tabulator produced by Election Systems & Software. The offer is part of state’s effort to get more accurate returns and to ease the burden on clerks who may have to count ballots into the wee hours of the morning.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said 61 municipalities accepted the offer, while six, including Litchfield, rejected it.

Some town officials, however, had been in favor of the machines:

Last fall, Doris Parlin, Litchfield town clerk and registrar of voters, listed the pros — among them saving the ballot clerks’ $7.50 hourly wage for counting — and the cons, including a short time frame prior to the November election, for which election clerks already were appointed.

Both Parlin and Town Manager Michael Byron supported getting the tabulator to count state and federal election returns. Parlin said the intent was to continue to hand-count ballots for local offices.

In the November presidential election, clerks were counting the 1,914 ballots cast until 12:30 a.m., Parlin said.

But ultimately, concerns about technology – and a desire to keep the character of town elections – led the town selectmen to decline the state’s offer:

Litchfield is very much not a technology-oriented group,” said Leibowitz. “There’s the lack of confidence in the technology. We all remember the fiasco in Florida in the presidential election a few years ago. We just don’t want that here.”

The choice is especially significant because the state is offering the machines to towns at no cost – “like Christmas,” in the words of the deputy secretary of state – but in Litchfield, at least, the desire to maintain the hand-counting tradition is strong enough to resist.

Litchfield will become part of an increasingly small hand-counting minority as the state moves on to offer tabulators to smaller towns through Maine. Yet, it’s interesting to see that there are still communities across the nation where a desire to do-it-yourself trumps the growing push for speed and technology.

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