Town clerk panel gives glimpse into multifaceted job

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-19-2023 1:11 PM

GREENFIELD — As election season approaches this fall, the League of Women Voters of Franklin County held a town clerk panel to give folks a glimpse into the role.

The panel followed the league’s business meeting and election of officers and directors last week, and featured retiring Montague Town Clerk Deb Bourbeau and Ashfield Town Clerk Alexis Fedorjaczenko, who shared their experience working in the position responsible for voting, keeping vital records, overseeing town censuses and other records-related work.

“I tell people, most major events, you come to see the town clerk,” said Fedorjaczenko, who started in Ashfield in 2020. She said the town clerk is responsible for birth and death records, marriage certificates and dog registrations, among other documents. Bourbeau added that town clerks “do much more than people think we do.”

Bourbeau began working in the town government in Montague in 2004 and was elected as town clerk in 2006. She is officially retiring at the end of the month. Reflecting on her time in the role, she said it “has been the best job of [her] life” and the constant flow of people into the office makes every day a new experience.

“I just love working in Town Hall. … It’s like a party everyday,” Bourbeau said, joking that she’s met so many people that her grocery trips now take two hours. “These people become your friends forever.”

A lesson she said all town clerks should learn is that you need to develop relationships with the various agencies you work with, including the local Post Office for mail-in ballots and the Secretary of State’s Office, which provides strong guidance to town clerks.

Fedorjaczenko and Bourbeau explained how their town governments work to those in attendance at Temple Israel, with Ashfield being a caucus town and open Town Meeting, while Montague is the only Franklin County town that operates by electing Town Meeting representatives.

They also fielded questions, including how they feel about ranked-choice voting and voter turnout trends.

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Bourbeau put her head in her hands when considering how much work ranked-choice voting would add to an already overworked position, but she said it is something that she understands the appeal of.

“What would happen is it would delay results, big time,” she said. “I get it, but for me to figure that out, oh my God.”

In ranked-choice voting, voters list candidates in order of preference — a first choice, a second choice backup, and so on. To win, a leading candidate must achieve a true majority — at least 50% of the votes. If no candidate wins a true majority, then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Then, all votes for that eliminated candidate go instead to the voters’ next choices. That process repeats until a candidate wins a true majority.

Speaking to voter turnout, Fedorjaczenko said “there was very high turnout in 2020” given the presidential election, and she’s expecting 2024 to be similar. Turnout for local elections, however, has been low. Bourbeau noted that “local elections count the most; it affects your daily life.”

League of Women Voters President Marie Gauthier said the league will slow down its activities this summer, but will be very active in the fall with a Greenfield mayoral and City Council races. She expects to host candidate forums and meet-and-greets.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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