Solving the Ink Pen Problem

I’m a pen snob. I confess it without shame. Sometimes I write hundreds of words in a single day. Occasionally, thousands. Some of these words I type onto a computer screen, but just as many are written with pen and paper.

That’s why I’m particular about pens. I like a pen that feels good in my hand and that opens and closes with a satisfying click. I want the ink to flow through its barrel and onto the point smoothly and evenly. I want it to look nice on the paper. That’s why I’m convinced that gel pens are one of the best inventions ever. My go-to is a Pilot G-2, 07, which has a fine–not bold, not extra-fine–point. Though G-2s come in many colors, I’m a traditionalist. It’s black ink for me, almost always.

There are times, however, when I want writing to be a more tactile experience. I want to feel the texture of the paper through the tip of my pen. That’s when I reach for a Sharpie ultra-fine point permanent marker. The problem with these pens? They bleed through flimsy paper. You have to be sure the cap is on tight or the ink will dry up. And they need to be stored vertically with the point down so that ink is ready to flow as soon as you’re ready to write.

All of which leads me to write this week about working as a registrar for the Putnam County Election Commission during the most recent early voting period. The job isn’t complicated. Using a photo ID and, perhaps, a voter registration card, registrars look voters up in the computer database while they fill out an Application for Ballot. Obviously, this requires an ink pen. Simple, right?

Wrong. Having enough pens on hand was complicated before Covid. Pens tended to go missing, either by rolling off the counter and onto the floor or by being accidentally slipped into voters’ pockets or purses or by somehow wandering into the room where the voting machines are set up. Our solution? Offer pens that were noticeable. Pens in wild colors. Pens with fuzzy tops. Pens shaped like crazy straws. You know what? Those pens went missing, too. We tried attaching strips of Velcro to the barrel of our pens and asking voters to stick them back onto the Velcro strip attached to the counter. We tried tying strings around pens and anchoring them to a stationary object. We tried pleading with voters to put pens directly back into our hands when they were finished with them. Nothing seemed to work.

Then, in 2020, along came Covid. Early on, of course, no one was quite sure how it was spread. Just in case it might be through ink pens, we came up with a “safe” method for using them. We sanitized pens with Lysol spray and handed a clean one to each voter. After filling out paperwork, voters dropped their pen into a box with a sign on it that said DO NOT USE THESE PENS!!! When the box was full, those pens were sprayed with Lysol and the process began all over again.

We’re still doing that. Though we’re fairly certain such precautions don’t stop the spread of Covid, we’ve discovered that almost none of our pens have gone missing since we put the dirty pen boxes in place. Maybe, though, it has nothing to do with sanitary measures. Perhaps voters have become as particular about pens as I am. Who wants to abscond with a cheapo Bic Stic or, worse, the nearly worthless pens that check cashing companies distribute en masse?

Not me. When it’s my time to vote, I bring along my own trusty Pilot G-5, 07 with black ink. Even though I have to write only a few words on the Application for Ballot, I’m a pen snob. Forever and always.

(May 6, 2022)