Earlier this week I attended a big elections training conference for town clerks and registrars in Augusta. As I approached the Civic Center entrance somebody said, “Hi, Eva.” I didn’t immediately recognize him until he said, “Andy.” Last fall he’d helped me by telephone when the office computer was arguing with us human beings. That is his job.

At the coffee-and-muffin table I said hi to Owen Casas, recently in the Legislature but now the town manager of South Thomaston, where I used to live and where I have family. This is professional networking: maybe talk about work, maybe scuttlebutt. As in any classroom, nobody wanted to sit up front, but Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s chief elections official, took the mic to reassure the clerks that, “There are no spiders” up front.

Looking around, it was evident that Maine’s registrars are primarily women. I go to conferences and continuing education for all kinds of things, but in emergency management and solid waste and ham radio you can be sure there is never a line for the Ladies’ Room.

We were reminded by our instructors that, unlike in many other states, Maine’s elections are run at the municipal (rather than county) level. Local municipal officials were encouraged to be proud of the job they’re doing. Recent voter turnout rates in Maine have been high. I quietly wonder how many other municipalities generally have homemade doughnuts at the polls.

At lunch, it happened that one of our table-mates was Matt Dunlap, who has a sense of humor and seemed willing to put up with idle chatter from the likes of me. “My soon-to-be son-in-law says he calls your office and pesters you folks on a regular basis. Probably he doesn’t actually pester you, personally....”

“What’s this guy’s name?” asked Dunlap. I spilled the beans on Emily’s fiancé David.

“I know the name.”

“Something to do with license plates,” I confessed; “there’s this hobby....” Dunlap grinned. He had all kinds of stories about the chicanery and shenanigans instigated by folks who strive for low-number license plates. It’s a thing, I guess, and Dunlap knows all about it. There are guys who would turn in their summer neighbors for having a highly desirable plate on a car only driven for one week a year. “It’s wasted!” they complain to the secretary of state. Dunlap says, “There are only two things my office really controls: the wording of a referendum, and who gets what plate.” He told us about people sending detectives to funerals to get plates. He told us about people who have photo albums full of evidence of many generations of a family keeping their special license plate, passing it down. “The secretary of state is allowed to recall a plate,” he explained, which apparently results in attempted bribery from time to time, and important people occasionally expecting a certain level of license-plate deference, which I take it they don’t get. Likely David’s telephone calls to Dunlap’s office are no great burden in the grand scheme of license-plate politics. It’s a subculture.

After lunch we were back to elections training. I was thinking of how to phrase a question, one that would incorporate some of what makes Matinicus, er, special in the eyes of a state department concerned with protocol and regulation. We are taught, as registrars, to make sure to get a real physical address from everybody — even if someone is homeless and lives on a park bench beside the bridge, that counts — but write it down. How to ask a question about Matinicus, with its respected but entirely made-up addresses like “Kumquat Street” which show up on nobody’s databases, citizens who avoid the post office because therein might lurk a certified letter from the Ex or the Law or the Creditors, the Brazilian-style favela that is Harbor Point, the lack of RFD mail community-wide, the extreme rarity of utility bills with street addresses on them (the gas man might not even see the need to write your last name on your bill’s envelope, let alone any sort of address), and people who assume their residency status self-evident because of their last name regardless of domicile. I approached Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, the real boss at the Bureau of Elections, during break. “Do you know what a sternman is...?”

Governor Janet Mills was the keynote speaker after supper. “Maine consistently ranks as an easy state to vote in,” she assured us, and she meant it as a good thing. She thanked the clerks for their work, for being the face of democracy to the public, for choosing public service. “There has been very little (election) fraud in the State of Maine. There was some double-voting back about ten years ago, but we got the guy.…”