LAURA NICKERSON, left, and her sister, Velma Irish, chat at the Phippsburg Town Office.

LAURA NICKERSON, left, and her sister, Velma Irish, chat at the Phippsburg Town Office.

PHIPPSBURG

Laura Nickerson recalls counting ballots until 5:30 a.m., the morning after the polls closed at the town office.

Nickerson, 72, isn’t sure, but she figures she’s served as an elections clerk in her hometown for about three decades. She felt good about counting the ballots by hand.

“We got pretty tired,” Nickerson said. “But you felt you were doing something pretty important.”

Today, Nickerson and the other five election wardens will work in shifts — she from 7:30 to 3 p.m., the others from 3 to 10.

Machines count most of the ballots in Phippsburg nowadays but clerks still will tally the school and town referendum ballots by hand.

That’s fine by Nickerson.

“I don’t know if I trust a machine as I do people,” she said. “I keep wondering what happens if the power goes out.”

Nickerson is more dependable than that. For minimal pay, she goes about her appointed task every Election Day. She takes the names and addresses of voters as they come in, issues them appropriate ballots, and keeps a head count.

“She’s very personable — usually jolly and received well,” said Town Clerk Gloria Barnes. “She just enjoys seeing the people.”

A show of impartiality, Barnes said, is important.

“She’s always businesslike,” Barnes said, “but still friendly.”

Nickerson says she does her best to answer only appropriate questions.

She said there were a few tricky times during the advent of vote-counting machines.

“People had to be told to black in the space instead of using a check mark,” she recalled. “You can’t point to one oval or the other. You were afraid you’d say too much.”

Nickerson’s sister, Velma Irish, also works as an elections clerk — but on the opposite side of the room.

Irish is at the outgoing end, pointing people to the correct machine or container for their ballots.

There’s another difference. Nickerson is a Republican, Irish a Democrat.

“Actually, truly, I’m an independent,” Nickerson said. “But I have to be enrolled in a party to be a ballot clerk.”

Nickerson and Irish are the daughters of Lawrence and Arlene Libby. They grew up on Main Road, just a couple of houses from where Nickerson and her husband, Norman, live. That’s just a stone’s throw from the town office.

So the sisters know most everyone in this bucolic coastal community.

But some people they see only occasionally. That would include Election Day, or at the town Christmas party.

“We get to see everybody,” Nickerson said. “I love it. I suppose some people think it’s a cushy job, but there’s a lot to it. When you check off people’s names, for instance, you have to make sure they haven’t voted absentee.”

Nickerson and the rest of the ballot clerks met two weeks ago to go over their assignments and duties.

They’re all ready for today.

“We always have a good turnout,” she said. “People are busier, and sometimes people are rushing in at the last minute.”

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