Her 39th Birthday

Dagny waits taking brief notes, her Clerk name tag at the edge of the pad facing out toward the orange-hoodied woman at the Town Board meeting microphone. Light hair like hers, the woman, a bit nervous, probably because it took a long time to get time with the Supervisors, describes not without logical or definitional innaccuracies her desire for the CVR (cast vote record), to be switched on (it’s always “on”, stored in memory and in the flash drive) and released—Dagny wishes Anorra County and the rest in her state would have, now 23 months since the world learned, well, they probably knew given same methods were used in many countries, so maybe let’s say ‘most Americans’ learned elections could be subverted at scale—and the fact that county election offices were taking cues from the Office of the Secretary of State to not release the CVR reports even though the reports probably wouldn’t show (couldn’t exactly anyway) proof of ballot stuffing or digital manipulation, their withholding nevertheless meant something was deeply unwhole about this.

That phrase from her grandmother came, “Dagny, maybe think of it as good people stuck in a bad system.” By the childhood pond where a young girl mourned her mother’s death at the hands of a teenager trying to steal her car, Grandma’s hands sent energy through her shoulder blades to ward off the tension. It happened on her 9th birthday. The incident and her grandmother’s words probably led her in part into her role in first Parks and Rec and then as Town Clerk, where presently the concern was whether 1+1 should =2 to elect and eject leaders fairly and peacefully, locally and beyond, but especially locally. It kept Dagny up nights hearing her friend’s exasperation at her inability to change the books her daughters were being shown in Kindergarten and 2nd grade, knowing the school board members may have been installed, not properly chosen by the people. Because it had happened on Dagny’s watch.

In the beginning though the idea was simple: help oversee the system so that better leaders could make better decisions to reduce depravity and poverty leading a teenager to try to steal a car from a women emerging from a shopping center with a gift on her daughter’s birthday, age 9. Dagny’s birthday was never the same. But that was the case for many. Pick any day, 1/6, 11/3, 9/11.

Today was September 27, 2022. 30 years on from her mother’s life being suddenly taken. Things had felt so disjointed then.

But here on her 39th birthday a woman, no matter how disjointed her words, clearly wanted what Dagny wanted. And then, following her, a young man amplified the woman’s concerns, adding on the righteous approach of hand tabulation, suggesting too that the Supervisors should they make such a decision would face political pressure requiring they be spiritually grounded to stand by it. The young man said the hand tabulation at any rate was a fail-safe or backup to machine malfunction on election night, which he was sure this clerk was aware how to conduct. Dagny nodded, the first of the Town staff to break their stern statue pose.

When the young man sat down the Chair said, “Dagny, you’ve looked into this, what say you?” It was expected she would appease the public speakers while allowing the Supervisors to avoid making tough decisions.

She had indeed studied her electronic systems, the laws, and the rules handed down by the Secretary of State, knew where those conflicted, how plausible deniability protected the SOS while leaving voters with only a narrow path to redress and reconcile their sacred voices through the vote. She felt her mother with her, struggling against the teenager trying to take her car keys, dropping the piggy bank, it crashed on concrete, an obstinate woman refusing to be robbed but losing her life for that principle. “The CVR is automatic, a log of votes, simple. But there is something more important…”

The Chair hesitated, three hairs on his left eyebrow moved, but he did not say not to speak. To his right a Supervisor coned his beard. To his left a Supervisor stiffened. Dagny knew she must speak truthfully, because she was the good person stuck in the bad system. “I’ve told my election staff and election judges who process the election that they are not signing at night’s end to verify the tallies, but only the total number of ballots that went through the machines equals that which came out and is summed on the restaurant-looking receipt print out. To that one of them said ‘Well in that case I will be hand tabulating a few races to make sure the machine didn’t count them wrong,’ which the law does not prevent.”

Now the Chair raised his chin and took a breath but Dagny pressed on before he could interrupt.

“Finally, I’m fully in support of hand tabulation—I’m ready, awaiting your approval by resolution, which the woman and man who spoke before suggested.”

They were all, she hoped, good people in a bad system, but it didn’t have to stay that way. They could change the system.

It would be quite a nice birthday present if the Supervisors would find the courage to vote for a hand count, for the warm human touch instead of the machine’s cold tabulation. But that was up to them. Her grandmother’s hands released her from the tension of the moment.

And little did she know but her words sparked the beginning of change. The hand tabulation in Anorra and across the land was not immediate—but neither was it too far distant in time—but only because many were still finding their spiritual foundations, making the change within which precedes the change out there in the world.