To the Point for 5/4/06


TUESDAY WAS ELECTION DAY here in Switzerland County and around Indiana, and although primary elections don’t bring the same amount of enthusiasm as general elections do, this year will be particularly memorable for many reasons.

In an attempt to move toward computerized voting systems, voters around the state — and here — were given the option this election day of voting with a paper ballot, or to use the new “touch” system.

The new system had been run through all sorts of tests leading up to the election, and had passed all tests with flying colors.

During the polling process, the touch system had mixed reviews from both voters and poll workers, with several polling places not having anyone use the new system at all. Those voters who did decide to try the new system had good things to say about it; and as 6 p.m. passed and the polls closed, Switzerland County Clerk Ginger Peters and her staff looked forward to getting the tabulations finished early and end an already long day.

The clerk and her staff had been up since the early morning hours, and after working hard all day, they were certainly entitled to a hot meal and a good night’s sleep.

That didn’t happen.

When the computers in the clerk’s office tried to merge the two types of votes — hand-marked and computerized — everything locked up, and everyone went to work.

Five of Switzerland County’s 12 voting precincts had been run through the computer without a problem; but with more than half of the votes still held hostage inside the machine, both candidates and those who had congregated at the clerk’s office to hear the results wondered when — or if — winners would be announced.

The night drug on, but Ginger Peters and her staff; along with County Election Board members Walter Cotton and Tim Swango, kept working to get the votes out to the waiting public.

Sitting in the clerk’s office, you could actually feel the tension in the air, but to her credit, Ginger Peters kept her head and worked methodically with a representative of the computer company trying to get the situation fixed.

It’s not easy to be in that situation, because most of the people standing there are focused on one particular race, and many times don’t stop and think about the bigger picture that is going on. Still, Ginger Peters carefully answered each question as it was asked; and many times offered apologies for a matter than was in no way her fault.

Late in the evening, Ginger Peters, Walter Cotton, and Tim Swango met; and it was then decided that the clerk’s office would wait for another technician to bring the needed computer supplies to Switzerland County on Wednesday morning, so that everyone could get the information that they needed.

But how do you secure all of those voting machines through the night, and in doing so insure the integrity of the election and the votes that they held?

A call to the State Election Board informed the county clerk that she could place the voting machines under the control of the county sheriff for the night.

Except that wouldn’t work, because Sheriff Nathan Hughes was one of the candidates on the ballot.

The next person to handle the machines is the Circuit Court Judge, who happens to be Ted Todd — who also happened to be on the ballot.

With no other options from the state, Ginger Peters said that she was going to spend the night in her office protecting the integrity of the election ballots. Since she is a Democrat — and also on the ballot — she asked Walter Cotton, the Republican member of the County Election Board, to stay with her.

That’s true leadership; but what happened next makes me appreciate the extent that Ginger Peters went to on Tuesday night even more.

Deputy Roy Leap noted that Ripley County had the same system as Switzerland County, and that they had finished counting their ballots and had gone home. Would it be possible to drive to Ripley County, get their cable and card, return here, and download the totals?

Tired from a long day, it would have been easy for Ginger Peters to simply stay with her decision to restart the process in the morning; but instead she agreed with the idea; and after a drive to Versailles and another couple of hours of waiting, Switzerland County got its election information early on Wednesday morning.

It got finished because of the dedication and caring of a lot of people. Many times we want to criticize elected officials when things go wrong.

I just thought that you also needed to know when someone goes out of her way to make sure something goes right.

And Ginger Peters did that on Tuesday night.