From the Nov. 8, 1974 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Out of the misty night, the big red sun with its pointed orange rays beamed bright over the stage in the Oak Bluffs School. Fluorescent lights shone down on the 16 people counting votes. The vivid backdrop of the stage curtain — the sun centered between two apple trees — offered respite to eyes weary of official tally sheets. The counters’ gestures said it was tedious — they pulled the glasses from their faces, rubbed their eyes and shook their heads. The hum of work prevailed, though, the cadence of names interrupted by an occasional chuckle or a repeat.

In Vineyard Haven the whalers of the Stanley Murphy mural kept the vigil, unconcerned with the tick of the clock or the rustle of ballots. After completing a block of 50 ballots, the vote counters sighed to themselves then went on, the long night only begun.

A box of chocolates gradually disappeared. A woman counted through mouthfuls and laughed when her partner couldn’t understand the name she read from the ballot.

The women — and they manned most of the posts — were well dressed. When they stood to stretch they adjusted their stockings or patted their hair. They didn’t run their hands through their hair desperately in exhaustion. They knew what they were there to do.

“It’s a social event. The work is such drudgery you have to make it fun,” said. Mrs. Maurita Prada of Edgartown. “So we bring food. We chat as we check the count, we laugh and we get the job done.”

Indeed election night for ballot counters is an event. One woman covered her satin dress with a wool cardigan but her shoes, green pumps, remained on her feet. It was as if she had happened upon the work en route to a cocktail party and had just rolled up her sleeves and started to help.

An anxious candidate came in from time to time. The ballot counters looked up from the work for a moment, wondering how he had crossed the threshold to this room, this limbo.

The voting places themselves had changed. The signed to aid voters were down, a coffee pot replaced the sheets of registered voters’ names on one table and the empty ballot box lay forgotten in a corner. In the voting booths only worn pencils and a few voter guides remained.

“What’s really fascinating about all of this is trying to figure the voters out,” Mrs. Prada said. “You follow their choices along, then find one vote that really throws you. On one question I found the YES box checked with penciled rays radiating from the box.”

A town clerk had a different opinion of creativity on the ballot. “The write-in votes go here on the tally sheet,” Mrs. Jane Votta of Oak Bluffs explained. “I have to check the names and addresses and if they’re correct I must accept them. Four names don’t fit in this space. It requires so much more time to count a write-in ballot. I just wish people who do these things had an opportunity to count ballots.”

The real difficulty with this year’s election was the land and water commission ballot. The warrant directed that the state ballot be counted first which meant the election committee began peering over the 42 names of the land commission candidates during the wee hours of the morning, at least in the three down-Island towns.

The business of voting for no more than nine caused some computation problems, too. Blanks were counted as well as votes for the checking device, but when in Edgartown counters got them all added up, the figures didn’t balance. The counters had to recount until all the numbers agreed with the checking figures — at about 4:45 a.m. Oak Bluffs didn’t have a problem, but the counters were glad when they’d counted the last land commission ballot. Vineyard Haven teams had little difficulty with the ballots, but worked until nearly 6 a.m.

Up-Island the tallying went quickly, and the totaled results were announced in the largest of the three small towns, West Tisbury, shortly after midnight.

Long hours of counting down-Island were matched by long waits in line to vote all day long in Tisbury and for especially busy periods in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs.

It was a matter of civic duties for counters and voters both.

The agony became the ecstasy as the votes on the state election ballot were tallied up on Tuesday night and Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs learned that the town again had voted wet right down the line.

And suspense subsided too in Tisbury where voters, conversely, but with equal determination, decided that Main street in Vineyard Haven and its environs would remain a Sahara insofar as the dispensing of alcoholic beverages by package stores or in large restaurants is concerned. There had been worry that the reputation for rowdiness — whether deserved or undeserved — that Circuit avenue had been gaining in the last several years might prove the catalyst for a majority vote against the sale of alcoholic beverages once the question got on the ballot again. The worry proved groundless.

Compiled by Hilary Wall