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CHICOPEF, Mass.--A small army of election workers have counted ballots by hand in this western Massachusetts city for as long as there have been elections, Not any more.
Yesterday's primary was the last time. Beginning with the general election in November, Chicopee's paper ballots will be tallied by an electronic scanner.
"And about time," said Joanne Boucher, assistant city clerk, who could recall more than one presidential election night when "it was time to get up and go to work again before the ballots were counted."
The city with 26,331 registered voters had been among the last of the state's larger communities to still count its ballots by hand.
The only larger city still doing so is New Bedford, according to state election officials.
With a light primary turnout, poll workers were predicting results by midnight Tuesday.
But often the clock in city hall has struck 3 a.m. before the last stacks of votes were counted and recounted meticulously.
"The times are changing. Look around you at all the silver hair here," said precinct warden Julia Thibodeau, who has been counting ballots for the city for 46 years.
The city had more than 345 election workers on duty yesterday, many just to count the votes, said City Clerk Nancy Mulvey. Fewer than half that number will be needed when the 27 optical scanners, costing $5,500 each, do the tallying, she said.
Chicopee lawyer Michael Bissonette, a candidate in the local Democratic primary for state senate, said he remembered seeing a voting machine with levers as a grade schooler.
"I was in either the 5th or 6th grade at the Kirby School when someone brought in a machine to show the city," Bissonette, 40, said.
But, as he recalled, it was the neighboring city of Holyoke that bought the machines.
"Old habits die hard," said state Rep. Joseph Wagner, D-Chicopee. "But who knows. Maybe more people will come out to vote if they can know the results before they go to bed."
About half of Massachusetts' cities and towns, most of them small, still use hand-counted paper ballots, according to state election officials.
"There aren't that many big cities in the state," said Wagner. "And the paper process works. But it is a lot easier to count 700 paper ballots than 18,000."
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