Last week, we talked about new businesses and new authors in town and I know they want to thank all of us for supporting them and spreading the word. When I was teaching career education classes at the high school, we spent a lot of time discussing the word “networking." I believe it will always be the No. 1 way that many of us find our job and, of course, it’s also the way the good news is spread about so many different things.
Just yesterday, John had the television on and one of the morning shows introduced a band called Tim Montana. They are a country band that sang the "Star-Spangled Banner" at one of our Boston Red Sox games. They were trying to spread the word about their new song they hope will be a hit, “American Thread."
Well you know me. when I heard the name I had to at least pay them the respect of listening. I now have a new favorite song and I even thought about buying this one, which I never do. What I love is that it celebrates the good old 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workers, the truck drivers, 18-wheelers like my dad — the blue collar workers that are doing their very best — our fire and police departments and everyone else, all of us. I really think you will like it and let me know what you think. “We’re Every Stitch of This American Thread” kind of “sings” it all.
I have something else pretty big to tell you, too. Actually, you will be the first to hear about it. A few other people know but only those behind the scenes. In Londonderry, we will be conducting our own trial run of using Election Poll Books to check people in for both our town and school deliberative sessions. We will be among the first in the state to test electronic voter check-in system.
I have to give credit where credit is due. I’ve told you before that we have a group of clerks who “network” to share ideas. Derry’s Town Clerk Dan Healey, me, Nicole Bottai of Windham and Joan Dargie of Milford participate. Joan is very interested in new technology and always asks the question, “Why?" Why are we doing it this way, or that way, which we completely love. Joan told us she decided to do a test run with checking in voters more efficiently using laptops at this year’s town election.
Joan got me thinking and I decided to do a little research on the new technology that is out there. I talked to Town Moderator Tom Freda because I know he loves new ideas like Joan. Tom said let’s give it a try. We decided that since Milford was trying one new approach, in Londonderry we would try a different tool which is Poll Pads. We will be using IPads for voter check-In, instead of laptops. The other thing that we liked about working with this company is they are the same company, LHS Associates, that supports all of our elections equipment from behind the scenes. A neat fact about this company is that it was established by a Londonderry family and the president grew up here, and still lives here.
Imagine the comparative study we will be able to do and what we will be able to share with the rest of the state. The interesting thing about the use of technology for these necessary tasks at elections is that they are already being used successfully in so many other states. I have to tell you, I did get a little cold feet after we got the process started because what we are about to take on. Thank goodness our moderator Tom reminded me of all the reasons the time is right.
Using this technology will allow us to make the voter check-in process much, much faster. Often what happens, in every election, is that we break up last names according to the alphabet and often you’d never guess it but thought really is given to what last name letters have the most voters. We do our very best to look at past years voting to determine which last names had the longest or shortest lines. The problem is, no matter how much we plan it seems that one year the G line will be backed up and voters are waiting. We make adjustments for the next election and then the M line is backed up when it had been fine the year before. I bet you never guessed how much planning and strategizing has to take place behind the scenes for that one part of an election to be successful. Last names are then looked up in huge registered voter books at the table and manually checked off, which also takes time.
The problem starts when voters have to wait in a long line just to check-in, and before they even get their ballot, we have a huge domino effect to deal with. In both Londonderry and Milford, there is only one polling place. If things get backed up inside, parking spots are held up. The next thing you know, voters can't move in and out efficiently. Next we will have traffic backups. One thing inside can definitely affect everything outside.
With our new technology, voters can go to any line to check in. The voter will walk in, glance at the 10 or so tables and just pick a registered voter check-in table with the shortest line. The ballot clerk will ask the voter to say their name and address aloud and to present their photo ID. They will quickly type in even just part of the last name and the voter will move on to get their ballot. Our hope is that no wait inside will help keep everything moving outside, too.
What many other states have found is that by using technology like this, additional polling places are not necessary. By doing a test run with our town elections, which sadly usually have a much lower voter turnout then our state and federal elections, we hope for a little more room for unexpected things that will come up and do come up anytime you are trying something new.
We are also prepared for the old human trait of if it goes well, that is great and a few people might let us know, but if anything goes wrong that little group of people who, sadly, I think really do just like to make others feel bad… will be shouting our blunders from the rooftops, but we are also prepared for that.
This week, my hat goes off to Community Caregivers of Greater Derry, who do so much good to be there for those with all kinds of needs. Executive director Cindee Tanuma and her wonderful crew, and I wish I could name them all here, do so much for so many. In my book, every town should look at the amount of funding they give to this amazing non-profit and give more.
Just this week our wonderful resident Flo Silva who, at 92, still volunteers at Parkland Medical Center, was telling me how wonderful Community Caregivers has been to her. Remember you can make a donation of any amount or call Cindee and find out how you can become a volunteer.
Sherry Farrell is Londonderry town clerk and a lifelong resident of New Hampshire.