Hail, Watchman of Democracy!


I thought if you had a constable, you must live in London in the 1800s, and if you had a serious problem, you called on Sherlock Holmes, not the constable, because the constable was a dope.

No. I’ve come to find out, having moved here to beautiful Ipswich, Massachusetts, we actually have more than one constable, and not a dope to be found. We have a Shellfish Constable, for instance. I might be tempted to make light of this job (“No shellfish were cited for public drunkenness this week, the shellfish constable reported”); but if you look at official Town records, this person is clearly doing way more work than he’s getting paid for, no matter what we’re paying him. My (fishing) hat’s off to our Shellfish Constable.

And then there’s our Election Constable. Yes, our Shellfish Constable gets most of the attention — being summoned to public hearings and appearing in the minutes of official meetings and dealing with feedback from clammers in various dialects, sober and otherwise. But our Election Constable bears a serious burden as well. Especially during a season such as this: the election season.

This last Ipswich Election Day was particularly tense, what with the officially unopposed Town Moderator up against an unknowable number of write-in candidates. (No wonder there was backlash from the grassroots, after his high-handed performance at Town Meeting, autocratically dispensing with 26 articles in a scant 4 hours and 15 minutes. The common wisdom is, if you don’t go till midnight, you’re not really doing your job.) Murphy, however, prevailed.

Also on Election Day, there was that little matter of four Board of Selectmen’s candidates running for two available positions. Recognizing the likelihood of riots, our fearless Election Constable Ron Graves girded himself and prepared for the worst. He arrived early at Ipswich’s sole polling place, the Y, armed with a sandwich. The sandwich appeared to be a ham and Swiss on wheat from Five Corners Deli, but this is unverified. It may also have been something his wife Mary threw together before he left the house. Anyway, as a paragon of moderation, Constable Ron didn’t eat his sandwich till midday. Impressive.

Positioned at the entryway to the gym, Constable Ron enforced the law. There would be no campaign signs allowed within 150 feet of the polling station. (He had already posted very scary warning signs on the road out front, at a point 150 feet from the entryway.) He was also watching, with his eagle eye, for campaign literature carried into the building by potentially dangerous insurrectionists, literature intended for surreptitious distribution to voters in order to influence them in their final, most vulnerable moments, just as they entered the gym to vote. This year, thanks to your Election Constable, no propaganda got through.

You may laugh. But the constable’s job is more complicated than you think. During the same time he’s responsible for interdicting electioneering activities and literature in a 150-foot perimeter beyond the front door, he also has to see to it that nobody carries any water or other liquids into the voting area. Imagine an unsteady soul, already jittery over the high-tension selectmen’s race — “Ed or Phil or Bill or Bill?” — stumbling into a voting booth and spilling H2O all over the place. This could totally ruin one of those government-issue Sharpies they give you for blackening the ovals on your official ballot. Swimming in that black glop, who knows what crazy kind of vote you’d cast?

And then Election Constable Ron Graves would have to deal with you. That’s what he does, if you spoil your ballot. Indeed, the most recent serious Ipswich Election Day crisis may have been a spoiled-ballot incident in 2012, when the machine kept spitting out one woman’s ballot. Constable Ron hastened to the scene. After obtaining her permission to inspect her ballot, he informed her of the problem.

“Ma’am, you’ve voted for both Obama and Romney.”

The woman smiled sweetly at the constable.

“I like them both.”

“Ma’am,” the constable replied steadily, “it says ‘Vote for one.’ If you vote for two, the machine knows you broke the rules, and it won’t accept your ballot.”

“But I like them both.”

Constable Ron, doing his duty, issued the would-be voter a stern warning. I paraphrase:

“Ma’am, I’m going to give you a new ballot. Please vote for one. And let me hasten to add, under the rules, if you spoil three ballots, I throw you out of here.”

There is, apparently, a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule in Ipswich.

The woman obeyed. She voted for one. Her choice, Obama or Romney, remains unknown. But this we know: The machine accepted her ballot. Crisis averted.

Strong leadership. That’s what you need in a constable.



Doug Brendel is a political junkie who attempts to manage his morbid addiction to local politics from his home on outer Linebrook. Follow him by clicking on “Follow.”



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