Afterward, you get an “I Inhaled” sticker

Election Day is coming, here in Ipswich, Massachusetts, the day we make our voices heard and our opinions known, even more than every other day of the year, hunkered over a Reuben sandwich at Sofia’s with our equally grumpy friends.

This year, we’ll be asked to choose Select Board members. This is part of a solemn tradition stretching back 389 years. When it began, the Select were men, serving on a Board of Selectmen. Eventually, Selectmen could also be women, but they were still called Selectmen. Finally, in recent years, instead of Selectmen, we have Selectpersons, serving on a Select Board.

In any case, we have to select them.

It will happen at the Ipswich Y, converted into a cavernous polling place, with tables and voting booths and ballot-reading machines standing in four long lines, one for each of our esteemed precinct.

And whether you realize it or not, it will be costly — and potentially dangerous.

Yes, dangerous. Because of the ink.

Ipswich doesn’t use those quirky voting machines you’ve heard about. No tabs to flip or levers to pull. No troublesome punchcards, with those “hanging chads” that got George W. Bush elected. No. Ipswich is a historic town. We do things the good old-fashioned way. With ballots printed on stiff, sturdy paper, an open oval next to each candidate’s name.

And with Sharpies.

Well, maybe they’re not actual Sharpie-brand Sharpies. But they’re pens, loaded with permanent black ink — I assume it’s permanent, because how could you trust a ballot marked with erasable ink? The Town of Ipswich graciously stocks each voting booth with a black Sharpie-type pen, so you can fill in each of your preferred ovals with a small dab of permanent black ink.

It is assumed you’ll use the pen properly, and dispense the ink appropriately. No licking the inky tip of the pen. And no smelling the ink fumes. These activities would be hazardous to your health. Permanent marker ink is made from chemicals you probably don’t want to ingest, by nose nor mouth, according to the Northern New England Poison Center:

  • There’s xylene, a volatile liquid hydrocarbon otherwise used in fuels. 
  • There’s toluene, a colorless liquid you can find in coal tar or petroleum, used as a solvent. 
  • And then there’s urethane resin, a synthetic compound used to make pesticides and fungicides. (In the good old days, before we knew better, it was used as an anesthetic.) And in its solid form, urethane resin is often used to make movie props.

Put them all together and you get permanent marker ink!

(P.S. The Northern New England Poison Center adds this hopeful note: “Permanent markers are safe when used as intended.”)

The most painful Election Day hazard, however, is probably cost. Ink is expensive. A single Sharpie typically costs at least $1.20. Even buying in bulk, at a lower unit cost, you’re still talking about serious money. I found permanent black ink online for roughly $75 a gallon.

But we could cut costs, and quite easily. Hear me out:

We’re being asked to fill four Select Board seats from among six candidates. This means every ballot will get four dabs of costly permanent black ink. But if our leaders would simply let us cast “no” votes instead of “yes” votes, we’d only have to fill in two little ovals on the ballot instead of four. The town would save half of its total Election Day ink budget.

And just imagine how much more satisfying it will be to vote against candidates rather than for. To be honest, I’ve already got a couple in mind.

But of course, it’s too late to change gears like this for the upcoming election. So we’ll need to blacken the ovals adjacent to the names of the candidates we favor.

So, to be clear: I urge my fellow citizens to vote. Please vote in favor of four candidates. And vote quickly. For the sake of your health, hold your breath.

(Don’t hold your nose, though. That might look snarky.)

Doug Brendel lives in Precinct 3 and writes with a cheap, safe pencil. Follow him by clicking “Follow the Outsidah” here at

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