Back in the Saddle
Wednesday, November 13, 2019 11:14 AM
Every election day, I’m struck by the same thing: How open the process is.
While election officials have a serious job to do and certainly don’t need an audience, it is simultaneously refreshing and amazing how willing they are to allow folks to look over their shoulders.
Okay, sure, it’s a small community and no one is going to be demanding press credentials from an old guy who has been covering elections for decades.
But just the same, it impresses me.
On election night, I wandered up to the Jay County Courthouse a few minutes after 6 p.m. One precinct’s results were already in the building.
As crews arrived from polling stations, workers brought in voting machines and boxes of paperwork. Representatives of both parties were involved the whole way through.
In the same room where early voters had cast their ballots, Jay County Clerk Jon Eads and his crew supervised the tally. Again, both parties were represented.
So was the press.
Rather than asking me to step outside and wait, rather than get into that this-is-my-turf mentality, officials have always allowed me to step inside to watch the process.
That was true with this election and every local election I can remember, going back decades.
If that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, ask voters or reporters from a couple of dozen other countries. They’ll set you straight.
It is, indeed, a big deal.
And to their credit, the same holds true even when things don’t go quite right.
That was the case in this month’s municipal elections.
One of the voting machines in Dunkirk decided to be a pain in the neck. When election officials at West Jay Community Center tried to go through the process of ending the ballot day, the machine balked.
The people at West Jay called the courthouse and were told to bring it in so things could be sorted out.
The crew and the voting machine arrived about 7:07 p.m. (I was sitting on a bench in the hallway and checked my watch.)
After the crew went through the usual procedures, the team from the clerk’s office started trying to get the malfunctioning machine to cooperate.
Anyone who has ever struggled with a computer or computer software can sympathize with what they were going through.
But no one panicked.
Instead, they methodically tried every fix they’d ever been taught then got on the phone to the tech-wizards who had put the thing together. First one was tried, without success. Then another.
You knew it was getting serious when Jon Eads asked for a toolkit.
After all, 143 ballots were trapped in that machine. There was no way the officials on hand were going to allow those votes to be uncounted.
With a toolkit produced, there was some confusion while the right-size screwdriver could be found. Rose Morgan, one of the Dunkirk election workers, went out to her car for a better toolkit. And things started to come together.
There, in a courthouse where paper ballots had been counted by hand for the better part of a century, the group turned the voting machine upside down, unscrewed eight screws, popped the hood and looked at the array of wires and circuitry that held those 143 votes captive.
As Jon jiggled the card in the card reader just so, the right buttons were pushed. The machine went into tally mode, and within a couple of minutes those 143 voters who might have been disenfranchised got their votes back.
Their democratic rights as citizens had been preserved thanks to tech support, the right screwdriver, and cool-headed patience.
Maybe it wasn’t a Norman Rockwell image of democracy in action, but it was darned close. And I think Norman Rockwell would have approved.