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After a 2-day delay, election board counts ballots from final precincts

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GREENFIELD — The Mt. Vernon referendum failed; a slate of three candidates won spots on the Mt. Vernon school board; and two Eastern Hancock newcomers landed school board seats after a final tally of Hancock County election results was completed Thursday.

Forty-one hours after polls closed Tuesday, Hancock County voters and candidates finally had the results of the election.

The count was delayed after problems counting votes surfaced on election night in three of the county’s 43 precincts. The Hancock County Election Board decided to wait until 9 a.m. Thursday morning to complete the count.

While the results of other contested races in the county were fairly obvious, the 2,537 uncounted ballots in McCordsville and Jackson Township left the Mt. Vernon referendum and Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock school board candidates in limbo.

It took the election board two hours Thursday morning at the courthouse annex to iron out the problems. Nearby, a group of four Mt. Vernon residents waited on the edge of their seats to find out whether their candidate had won or lost.

“We won! We swept them! We swept them!” Florence May shouted when she saw the results that put her husband, Tony May, and Michael McCarty and Jason Shelton on the Mt. Vernon School Board. The three ran together as a slate.

Their victory and the failure of the referendum, which asked taxpayers for a temporary increase in property taxes to help the cash-strapped school system, were somewhat contradictory.

The three candidates had run generally in favor of the referendum and growing the school district. Carolyn Flynn, Ralph Spears and James Metcalfe ran on another slate, saying more budget cuts should have been made.

Incumbent Bob Hiday ran independently and was also defeated.

The referendum’s failure follows a long history of disappointments for school administrators in the county. It was the second time Mt. Vernon voters have rejected a tax hike. Referendums at Eastern Hancock and Southern Hancock also have failed in the past 2½ years.

Still, May and Shelton said they weren’t really surprised the referendum failed because it had become so controversial.

“I truly do not think people understood … what (the referendum) was about, what it was for and when you put the numbers to it, how small it really meant to a household,” Shelton said. “It’s going to make the job of being on the school board be a whole lot harder.”

May said voters chose his slate because of its positive message. He said the slate had expected to win the two McCordsville precincts that were not counted Tuesday.

“Demographically, the McCordsville precincts are younger, more likely to have kids. It was really kind of our strength,” he said. “I think part of it was the positive message. We’ve got a great school, a great foundation to build on. We’ve got financial problems, yes, but we need to look to the future.”

Flynn, who had become a controversial figure in the race, was the leading vote-getter among all MV school board candidates when the counting ended Tuesday but dropped to fourth after the McCordsville votes were counted.

Flynn was philosophical about the loss and offered congratulations to the winners. She did point to one victory: defeat of the referendum.

“That’s a stronghold for the school,” Flynn said of the McCordsville precincts. “They’re wealthy, they’ve got money up there, they want the best for their kids and they don’t want anyone to jeopardize it.”

The problem with ballots in McCordsville was due to new poll workers and errors feeding folded absentee ballots through the machine, Clerk Marcia Moore said. Thursday morning, the election board finished feeding those ballots and even used a different scanner. Still, two would not go through the machine, and the board had to re-create them by filling in circles on new ballots.

The time it took to get final election results increased the friction in the Mt. Vernon community over the last two days, said Peggy Schleter. Schleter has children in the school system and helped spread the word about the May/McCarty/Shelton slate through text messages and Facebook. She said many people wanted to know the results right away, and they were disappointed the election board held off on counting until Thursday.

“I think the day wait was the worst thing they could have done,” she said.

Still, she was glad of the result. Michelle King, another Mt. Vernon mother, said the three winning candidates have a positive platform for the school.

“They understand that a strong school district is going to make the entire community stronger,” she said.

The final vote on the referendum was 5,010 “no” votes to 3,765 who voted “yes.” The results for the school board race were McCarty, 3,169 votes; Shelton, 3,169; May, 3,151; Flynn, 3,101; Metcalfe, 2,313; Hiday, 2,213 and Spears, 1,752.

In Eastern Hancock’s two contested races, winners were Jim Jackson and Scott Johnson. Both were in the lead on election night, and the final votes from Jackson Township confirmed their victories.

Jackson defeated Neil Floyd, 1,344 votes to 881. Johnson topped Michael Schrope, 1,122 votes to 1,109.

Schrope said he was disappointed he lost, especially by such a narrow margin.

“It really would have been nice to know Tuesday night,” he added. “The last two days (there have been) lots of calls, lots of people coming up to me saying, ‘Well, what happened?’”

Jackson’s wife, Deb, was at the count Thursday morning. While she was pleased the victory went in her husband’s favor, the whole process was nerve-wracking and frustrating.

The issue in Jackson Township was a bad battery in the computer disc that held the results. A printed tally of the results was available Tuesday night, and the election board ended up using that printout to verify results.

Deb Jackson pointed out that the election board could have done that Tuesday night and saved a lot of worry. She was also disappointed with the lack of communication from county officials.

Hancock County was one of only three in the state that had ballot problems. The other two counties resolved problems Wednesday.

Moore and board President Bob Bogigian said fatigue played into their decision late Tuesday night to wait until their regularly scheduled Thursday meeting to count ballots.

The county’s election administrators took several phone calls Wednesday from people wondering about final election results. They had to tell the callers the same thing: Results wouldn’t be finalized until Thursday.

Moore said she talked to one concerned person Wednesday about the decision. She said she stood by the board’s decision to wait an extra day for ballots to be counted.

Thursday’s final tally did not change any other contested races in the county. Democrat Crystel Myers walked away with 10,120 votes for Hancock County coroner, defeating independents Dan Devoy and Joe Fortner.

While it took two hours to fix the glitches in the three uncounted precincts, it took a few more hours to go over provisional ballots and write-in candidates.

Provisional ballots are cast by people if they insist they are registered but their name doesn’t appear in registration lists. Of about 70 provisional ballots that were cast, only three were verified to be eligible.

While the majority of Hancock County voters – 22,794 – voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president, some people also wrote in candidates. Jill Stein, Green Party, received 11 votes; and Virgil Goode Jr., Constitution Party, received 10.

The board also noted that a dozen or so people wrote in Richard Lugar for U.S. senator, even though Lugar was not an eligible write-in candidate after his primary election loss.

A total of 33,071 Hancock County voters cast ballots. That’s a 64 percent turnout, which is slightly lower than the last presidential election. In 2008, 34,488 Hancock County voters, or 69 percent, cast ballots.

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