By Ed Breen
We were young We don’t need the Russians to tamper with our elections here in Grant County. We are quite capable of doing it ourselves.
I shall not bore you with tales of old about how, on election night, you could go to the big meeting room at the old YWCA in Marion, or the Republican or Democrat party headquarters, pull up a chair and spend the next couple of hours watching the returns be posted with chalk on a blackboard. By 9 o’clock there would be winners and there would be losers.
As someone said in a song, it was all so simple then.
The parties and the press sent people to the polls at 6 p.m., the numbers were read by the precinct officials, and they were duly recorded on sheets of paper and returned to the clerk’s office and the party headquarters and the newspaper.
And, on most occasions, the results were posted, the winners were known and we were out of there, some off to the watering holes, others off to the newsroom to write their accounts or broadcast them on the radio.
There would invariably be a couple of stray inaccurate totals here and there in the “unofficial” numbers, but those would be taken care of in the official full-page vote table published a couple of days later as a legal advertisement in the classified section of the local daily. Precinct by precinct, office by office, line by line. You could look it up.
This little nostalgic reverie in stark contrast to the agony of election nights in the digital era, the last three or four at least, and most certainly the one from last Tuesday night.
That was the election night on which we were into our fourth hour before a single living ballot was posted. The election night on which, in something so simple as a municipal election with 46 precincts, it was approaching 11 o’clock before we identified winners and losers.
There is no reason here to point fingers or launch expletives. No one is assuming anything sinister went on. Dysfunctional, but not sinister.
It was what it was: Absurd.
But, we have been assured by those who were inside the courthouse that night that all went pretty much as it was supposed to. Party chairmen, election board, voter registration folks, a few lawyers and assorted others with access to the bowels of county government where all this happens.
Well, no. Nothing went as supposed. Or at least very little.
Not a heavy voter turnout; a tad less than 27 per cent. Almost embarrassingly low. Forty-six of 63 county-wide precincts. No overload there. And remember: This was a municipal election, cities and towns only. A paltry 1,800 absentee and early votes, compared with 8,000 in the general election of 2016.
And we’re not indicting County Clerk Pam Harris or election deputy Nancy Bryant here. They are playing with the cards they were dealt. This election night trauma has been lurking for a long time, ever since we went high-tech a dozen years ago.
Each election night we go through this. Any side bets on what time well have numbers? Primary voting night last May went fairly smoothly but not flawlessly. Something wouldn’t read right in the computer, but they finally got it to work. A little grumbling, a little grousing and the night is over. The machines are put away and the issue is forgotten about until the next election.
Well, this was the next election and it was bad.
The next one – the primary of 2020 – may be one for the ages. Indiana and, by extension Grant County, may have a real voice in a critical decision. We have had it before; 1968 and 2008 come to mind.
Let’s get everybody at the table: Clerk, Commissioners, techies, County Council with its check book.
We can send men to the moon and we’re carrying all the computer power on the planet in our phones.
Let’s just fix our voting machines and do it now.
By Ed Breen