Marion Mudge’s preparation for Tuesday’s Tisbury town election began well before the actual event. Absentee ballots were sent out, members of the fire and public works departments were consulted for setup, voting booths arranged, signs posted and stocks of snacks purchased at the grocery store for election volunteers.
As Tisbury town clerk for the past 30 years, Ms. Mudge has kept track of Tisbury’s vital records — its births, deaths, marriages and civil unions. But elections remain her favorite part of the job.
“Something always happens,” she said on Tuesday afternoon, seated at a table in the Tisbury Emergency Services Facility. “There’s always something new that you learn, or a new question that comes up.”
There were all-nighters spent counting ballots, the tie vote for beer and wine in Tisbury, the time Ms. Mudge and the ballots nearly got stuck in the town hall elevator (elections were moved to the American Legion building after that episode) and a recount in 1984, her first year on the job, during a contested race for the Dukes County Commission. There was a differential of 11 votes.
“It was a little on the tense side,” Ms. Mudge said. “I spent a lot of time talking to Nancy Smith, who was the clerk in Edgartown, and talking to people up at the Secretary of State’s office.”
In the end, the results didn’t change.
Through a parade of candidates over the years at the local, state and national levels, the face behind Tisbury elections has remained steady. But next week Marion Mudge retires. Her final election included a race to decide who would fill her shoes. Hillary Conklin will take over as town clerk on Tuesday.
Over the years Ms. Mudge has never stopped educating herself on voting and elections, attending annual conferences sponsored by the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association and taking courses throughout her career.
“I’ve been very fortunate because the town has supported me,” she said. “I think in the long run that ends up saving the town money . . . even when you’re sitting around the table talking to town clerks, you learn things.”
“Election laws these days are changing very quickly,” Ms. Mudge said. During the last election, some ballots were emailed for the first time. Changes to same-day voting and early voting are in the works as well.
“I took a course a few months ago on recounts,” she said. She wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen during the town election, so the course was just to be on the safe side. “You never know until you hit the button at the end of the night and find out what the totals are.”
Pushing the voting machine button may be faster, but Ms. Mudge has a soft spot for the old way of hand-counting ballots.
“We’d have about 30 people,” she said. “You do it in teams of two and...one person reads the ballot, the other person marks the tally sheet.”
“Nobody left until everything added up. The number of ballots matched the number on the machine [which] matched the number of votes.”
During voting hours on Tuesday, people greeted Ms. Mudge as she sat next to Tisbury constable Reno Fullin, who is also stepping down after 31 years on the job. They wished Ms. Mudge well and thanked her for the past three decades of service.
“We just had a first-time voter,” Ms. Mudge observed. “When she turned 18, the thing she wanted to do first was register to vote. I saw her walking across the parking lot, and I thought that maybe we should give her applause.”
“I was nixed. They told me I would embarrass her,” she said. “And actually she probably would have been embarrassed.”
“But we congratulated her.”