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Paper piece quilt made from mixed fabrics, paper, plastic letter beads, and ink.


This poem is based on an email exchange I had with the clerk of the town where I grew up. It uses humor and evidence to answer the question: who is the keeper of the material of democracy?


In the USA, elections are localized. Every county, town, and city is tasked with guarding its voted ballots after an election, in case they need to be recounted. Contrary to people’s fears around the legitimacy of USA elections, it is our neighbors who do the daily labor of protecting the material of our democracy. 

This poem juxtaposes bureaucratic language (adapted from the clerk’s words in our emails) with humorous questions. The gentle humor of the poem disengages people’s initial reactions and creates space to listen and form new opinions. 

Question re: paper ballots

Dear Clerk, Who is the keeper of the material of democracy?
Ballots and other materials for local elections must be preserved for 30 days. Ballots and other materials from biennial state primaries and elections (in which ballots federal candidates appear on the ballot) must be preserved for 22 months.

United states code: title 52, subtitle ii, chapter 207

Who watches over the ballots at night? Tucks them into their filing cabinets and pulls their folders up to their chins?
The town is responsible for retaining the ballots.

Where do they go when they are no longer needed?
After the retention period is exhausted, the ballots are destroyed. To the best of our knowledge they are recycled by our municipality department.

I hope this has been helpful information.

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