Walter Cotton: ‘Two parties makes politics stronger’

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Although Walter and Helen Cotton moved to Switzerland County in 1985 to live, the name “Cotton” has a long history here in the county – dating all the way back to before there was a county.

“The first white male child born in Switzerland County was a ‘Cotton’,” Walter Cotton says. “We’ve been here ever since.”

Walter Cotton was born in Burlington, Iowa, and after graduating from high school, he attended the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he would meet his future wife, Helen.

The couple first lived in Kansas, and that’s where Walter Cotton remembers getting personally involved in politics.

“We first became active in the Republican party when Nancy Kassebaum was running for the U.S. Senate in Kansas,” Walter Cotton remembers. “She was Alf Landon’s daughter, who ran for president against Franklin Roosevelt. We began working for her campaign.”

Nancy Kassebaum won that election, but it was a bittersweet victory for Walter Cotton, who remembers that Election Day well.

“We went to vote very late in the day,” Walter Cotton said. “While we were waiting to vote, the TV had already proclaimed her to be the winner. I know that upset me, because my vote wasn’t going to help her win – but she did win.”

Eventually moving to York, Pennsylvania, the Cottons remained very active in Republican politics; and when they retired and moved to Switzerland County in the mid 1980s, staying involved was the natural thing to do.

But county politics in the 1980s was much different here than it is now.

“Sometimes you thought it was kind of futile,” Walter Cotton said of being a Republican in a heavily-Democratic county. “But we’ve lived in counties were they ate Democrats; and we’ve lived in counties like this one, where they’ve ate Republicans.”

Walter Cotton says that the two-party system here in Switzerland County has changed a great deal, as demographics of the entire area have changed as new residents with more conservative views move into this area.

“Two parties makes politics stronger,” Walter Cotton said. “It makes it stronger for everyone. When you have a ‘swing county’, the state will pay attention to you. If political parties believe that you’re going to vote a certain way no matter what, then they could care less.”

Although Walter Cotton sees more people choosing to vote Republican here in Switzerland County, he believes that it’s been very difficult to get those new Republicans more involved in the county party.

“I’m sure it’s hard for the Democrats, too,” he said. “It’s hard sometimes now for the precinct committeemen to find enough people to work the polls on Election Day.”

When this year’s general election occurs, Walter Cotton will again be an integral part of it.

He is the Republican representative to the three-member County Election Board – which is made up of a Republican, a Democrat, and the county clerk. It is the job of the County Election Board to control the election, from overseeing the printing of the ballots to making sure that all polling places are in compliance with local, state, and federal laws, to settling disputes involving issues during the polling period.

“Right now the ballots are already printed and we’ve already had the public test to make sure that the machines work properly,” Walter Cotton said. “I think we’re ready to go.”

Walter Cotton says that he remembers casting his first vote on a paper ballot – a long way from the computerized ballots and touch screen machines that are used today.

“What’s coming is the touch screen, which will be even more dramatic for voters,” Walter Cotton said. “We have touch screen machines here, and anyone is free to use them. They were purchased for use by people with handicaps, but they are open to anybody who wants to use them.”