Wanda Williams, the town clerk in Edgartown, knows a lot about change. She’s worked for the town for 31 years and either assisted or presided over at least 100 elections. She’s seen ties, recounts, a new voting machine, many broken-down voting machines, and this week a new clerk of the superior court. But for voters in Edgartown on Tuesday, the biggest change happened off the ballot.

Ms. Williams is retiring Nov. 30, making the 2018 midterm election her final one.

“It’s sad,” Ms. Williams said. “I’m a little sad that it’s my last one. I’ve been working here thirty years and I’ve always helped with elections.”

Democracy is hard, often thankless work. Especially for town clerks, who are responsible for counting and receiving absentee ballots, registering voters, testing machines, printing the rolls, finding a constable, and persuading enough volunteers to ensure every voter gets their ballot, and that every ballot gets counted. They’re part umpire, part general manager, part pinch-hitter. They need to be steadfast, honest and unimpeachable.

Ms. Williams knows this better than anyone.

“I don’t try to influence people into one thing or another,” she said. “But if they ask me my opinion, I’ll give it. They may not like it, but I’ll tell them it anyway. Don’t ask it if you don’t want to know.”

Over the past three decades, Ms. Williams has grown into her role as an unbiased vote counter. She started as an assistant clerk in the late 1980s, learning the trade from her predecessors. Now she’s the one passing the baton.

Ms. Williams started as an assistant clerk in the late 1980s, learning the trade from her predecessors. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“I just let the girls sit down and do their thing,” she said, describing election day activities. “I wander around and put out the fires.”

Although there were no fires on Tuesday, there was a steady stream of voters, keeping Ms. Williams and her “girls” on their toes throughout the day.

“If we have a large crowd, it’s exciting,” she said. “This has been really a busy day. I opened the polls ten minutes early, and by eight o’clock we’d already had 106 people. And it’s just been a constant stream all day long.”

Tuesday saw an unusually high turnout for a midterm election. While 64 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls in Edgartown, other Island towns saw turnout numbers in the seventies. Of course, Ms. Williams has also worked through her fair share of sleeper elections.

“If we have a smaller crowd, it’s like, oh, we have to be here for 12 hours, what are we going to do?” she said. “But we find things to do. We play games, we read, we knit. Well, they knit,” she said, pointing toward her volunteers. “I don’t knit, believe me.”

The town clerk also has to be willing to work the night shift, sifting through every ballot to count unconnected write-in votes long after the sun has set. On a few nights she’s even stayed late enough to watch it rise, too.

“It’s a lot better now than when I first started working here because we had no machines,” Ms. Williams said. “We counted the stuff. We stayed sometimes all night long. Sometimes we got to the polls at eight o’clock and we’re still there the next day because you had to divide the ballots up into packets of fifty, and we’d be here long, long.”

So what’s her favorite part of the 24-hour election day?

“Getting it over with,” she said. “I’m honest. But once everybody is gone, and after everybody leaves, we have to make sure everything balances. And that takes a long time too.”

Ms. Williams also has to preside over recounts, which occur with surprising frequency on the Vineyard. Just this past year, the project to rebuild the hangar at the town-owned Katama airport lost an important vote in the ballot box by a margin of three. Project backers requested a recount, filed into the town hall, and watched intently as Ms. Williams went through every ballot.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “Because one can see it one way, and when we check, it’s supposed to be the opposite. But they still lost because it ended up being a tie.”

Along with her duties as clerk, Ms. Williams is also a justice of the peace and a keeper of the records, officiating town marriage ceremonies and legalizing baby names. She’s married dozens of Brazilian couples and corrected spellings on their children’s birth certificates. She said she’s going to miss those parts of the job, too.

“They get married here and then go home for the party,” she said. “A lot of them don’t speak any English, but we figure it out. It’s fun.”

Even before she was Edgartown town clerk, Ms. Williams fought on the front lines of democracy.

“I spent 26 years in the Navy, so I am a defender of the country,” she said. “And anything I can do to move my country forward, I’m doing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s elections, or what.”

Her years in the Navy and as Edgartown clerk have made her a fearless public servant. But she still doesn’t know what will come next.

“I’m very satisfied with what I do and I’m sure I’ll be around for other votes,” she said. “Maybe I’ll become an election worker. Who knows?”