I periodically despair of politics and, if not despair, I become frustrated. Not necessarily because so many voters cast their votes for candidates that I don’t support, but rather, that so many folks do not vote at all, or vote only for the “top of the ticket,” that being president or governor or senator. Yet further down the ballot is where the action is, because the winners of those offices are the ones who impact our lives most closely: the state legislators, the school board members, the town councilors.
When I chose to run for the office of Judge of Probate for Hancock County, I knew that the office is about as down-ballot as it gets. Most people have no idea about what a Judge of Probate does, so I knew that I couldn’t just sit back and assume I’d get votes.
I would have to get out there and campaign in order to drum up some interest in the race and get the voters to make their choices. Since it is an elected office, the Code of Judicial Ethics allows candidates for Judge of Probate to campaign. So I campaigned.
I did the parades, the meetings and the pot lucks. I did a joint mailing with my friend John Wombacher who ran, and won, for County Commissioner in District II. I sent “Get Out and Vote” text messages to 750 new voters between the ages of 18 and 25.
I mailed postcards to many of the small towns in Hancock County. I worked hard. But I came up short. At the initial count, I was more than 200 votes behind the incumbent.
Then the votes from the military, the diplomatic corps and other Mainers who live overseas came in and that gap narrowed to 57 votes. I requested a recount and that’s when my recent close-up experience with democracy in Maine started.
Since there were more than 28,000 ballots to hand count, from every town and township in Hancock County, a total of 44 jurisdictions, two full days were scheduled in Augusta. And I needed to get a minimum of six folks each day to be my counters. But my friends and supporters, and even folks I didn’t really know, came through, with three of them volunteering for both days.
The process was amazing. I have always considered the Secretary of State’s office to be the premier department in Maine state government, even more so now after Matt Dunlap’s stunning work on the bogus voter fraud commission set up by the current President.
With Julie Flynn, Deputy Secretary of State for Elections, in charge, the staff is hard working and dedicated. They have great communication skills, and always respond respectfully no matter how unimportant a question is. And last week they conducted the recount in my Judge of Probate race.
It was a highly organized effort, all work was overseen by staff. There were many initial counts and recounts. When the recount number for one of the small towns was nine votes for one of the candidates, while the original election night count was ten votes, staff searched until that tenth ballot was located.
After each town’s box of ballots, stored in locked metal containers, was counted, the forms with the numbers were completed and given to each candidate. While the gap between my opponent and me decreased throughout the recount, I had a sense that the gap would not be closed. In the end, I lost by 25 votes out of almost 29,000 ballots cast.
Importantly, though, I did win something, and that is the experience of spending two days in a room with 12 volunteer counters, six for each candidate, doing their important job seriously and deliberatively, but also finding time to chat with each other, and even joke around on their breaks. These folks might be considered political opponents, since they supported and voted for opposing candidates.
But they set about doing their assigned task, upholding democracy, and in that room they were not political opponents. They were Americans and Mainers. And their example is one that Augusta and Washington should emulate.
Lynne Williams is a Bar Harbor attorney. She was a candidate for Judge of Probate for Hancock County in last month’s election.