By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
WINDSOR — There “ain’t no app” to mess up voting in this town of 122 registered voters.
Just an oak ballot box that since 1892 has been collecting the paper ballots on election day with a hand crank. Yup, it’s still used today. Then the ballots are counted by hand.
On the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire Primary, Secretary of State William Gardner stopped by in the tiny town of Windsor to see the box, with its hand-cut dovetail corners.
It dings happily as Pat Hines, election moderator, feeds each ballot into the antique box, still with its original hardware intact.
By noon, 18 of the town’s 122 registered voters had come by and added two new ones in same-day voting.
Perhaps some of the success for the primary and its 100 years has to do with flinty, thrifty Yankee towns like Windsor who decided the wood box and paper did not need to be updated and have stuck with the tried and true.
After leaving Windsor to head to Durham to what is usually the state’s largest same-day voter registration because it is home to the University of New Hampshire, Gardner said he was pleased to be overseeing such a tried and true method of collecting the first-in-the-nation ballots.
Hines said the town is pretty careful with its money.
There has never been a hue and cry to go to optical scanning machines or apps or to pay for any new box at town meeting and that is a good thing, he said.
Some years past, Hines had to start the voting process by digging out mice nests and the like at the bottom of the box before voting could start.
But that was before the new digs, when the town hall was without heat, plumbing or anything but a two-hole outhouse around the back of the building where the toilet paper was kept in coffee cans to keep the mice from eating it.
Linnea Steeves came in to vote on Tuesday.
The bell rang joyfully as Hines cranked the handle and the ballot disappeared inside.
Hines pointed to a photo on the wall of Steeves’ parents who donated the land to build the new and pretty snazzy one-room town hall at 14 White Pond Road, a few miles from Hillsboro and about 30 minutes west of Concord.
For a thrifty town, it was a handsome gift to just get the land donated.
The day usually ends with about 70 percent of Windsor’s voters coming to the polls. Before Tuesday, there were 12 Democrats, 42 Republicans and 68 Undeclared voters in town.
The day usually involves a spurt of energy at the polls after work and the school gets out and then it’s time to close the doors at 7 p.m. and count the ballots with Nick Buccarelli, supervisor of the checklist, and Town Clerk Patty Main.
Main said she thinks the way things work in her town is “fantastic.” The hand count usually goes quickly and easily for these sorts of things, though this year there are about 50 names on the ballots plus likely write-ins.
She reports the results to national and local media and if there is ever a problem, since there is a paper ballot, recount is no big deal.
The stained oak box has a long connection with Hines and his family.
Hines said his grandfather was also the moderator and likely cranked the box in the earlier years of the last century.
His family goes back further in history in the town and could well have used the box on its first days, Hines said.
When he saw the news coming out of Iowa last week that there were long delays because of a technological problem using the internet to tabulate data, he said, “that would never happen here.”
The incident, and potential for more trouble in Nevada next, allowed him to pause and think about the old town box and its reliable place as a receptacle of all those votes over the years.
Hines is pleased its workings are still intact, likely a new-fangled thing back in the day when there were no apps or internet for that matter.
There are other state-issued boxes out there from that era, Gardner said, point to a poster in the back of the room, partially behind one of two voting booths and a handicapped booth.
A poster with 79 of these 1892 state-issue boxes is photographed on a wall poster in the town hall with their names visible on the wooden end.
Some towns still use them and that is one of the beauties of a snowy quintessential primary day here in the 603. It may seem quaint but it also works.
As he departed, Gardner said there were no issues of voter irregularities or problems across the state “so far,” and that he expected that to be the case.
Thrift, history, and good old paper ballots assure an accurate, timely and verifiable result to the Presidential Primary of 2020, Gardner assured.