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Election officials wait until today to process remaining ballots

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GREENFIELD — Local candidates remained in a state of flux Wednesday after the Hancock County Election Board made an unprecedented decision to wait until today to finish counting ballots.

Hancock County is one of only three counties in Indiana with problems counting ballots, and is the only county that did not address the issue immediately Wednesday.

Fatigued after a busy election day but still with three precincts left uncounted, the election board decided to not call an emergency meeting Wednesday to finish processing votes. Rather, the board will meet at 9 a.m. today, which was a regularly scheduled meeting time to go over provisional ballots.

As many as 3,000 ballots are left uncounted in the J-1 (Jackson Township) and M-1 and M-1 southeast (McCordsville) precincts. The decision left Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock school board candidates on pins and needles, not knowing whether the remaining uncounted votes could change their fate. The move also put the decision on controversial Mt. Vernon school referendum on hold, leaving everyone in the Mt. Vernon school district unsure of its fate.

But Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore said election officials were too tired and swamped late Tuesday night to schedule a meeting for Wednesday.

“(Election night) at midnight when we were making the decision, I knew I was only going to have a brief amount of sleep and I’m not going to be as sharp (Wednesday) as I will be (Thursday),” said Moore, who had been up 21 hours that day. “I would hope the public would appreciate having board members that have clarity of thought to make a wise decision and they would be patient with us.”

But some candidates were more understanding than others. In Mt. Vernon’s tight race for three at-large school board seats, candidates and the public alike are wondering who will come out on top and whether the school’s referendum passed.

“(Tuesday) was certainly a long day,” said candidate Tony May. “We were out at the polls from beginning to end. It feels like the 2000 presidential election with Florida. It’s frustrating.”

May is currently in fourth place among the seven candidates vying for a seat. But the results from the two McCordsville precincts could completely sway the election: Only 112 votes separate May from Carolyn Flynn, who has the most votes right now. Michael McCarty and Jason Shelton are in second and third place, with only four votes separating them.

“I understand their exhaustion, but I am disappointed,” Flynn said. “It seems to me … if you have a job to do, no matter if you’re tired, you do your job and then you rest when your job is done.”

Flynn said it made sense for the board to not count the votes Tuesday night after so many problems, but she said they should have counted them Wednesday. Flynn is also concerned about the referendum: While 59 percent of votes counted so far were against the tax increase, that could change with the uncounted votes.

Moore doesn’t know how many ballots are left uncounted right now. But in the last presidential election in 2008, about 3,000 people cast ballots in Jackson Township and McCordsville.

Moore was the one who suggested holding off until Thursday to tally the votes. Board President Bob Bogigian and member Tom Cone agreed.

Hancock County is one of only three counties in the state that had problems tallying votes Tuesday night due to computer glitches. But it is the only county that did not address problems Wednesday.

Election workers in Dearborn and Monroe counties counted ballots throughout the day Wednesday, said Valerie Kroeger, spokeswoman for the Indiana secretary of state. Hancock County may well be the last county in the state to complete its results.

“God love them, maybe they were able to make a determination earlier in the day,” Moore said of the other counties. “Maybe they got out of there well before midnight. … That’s the decision they made, and that’s the decision we made. And I still believe that haste makes waste, and it’s better to take a breath and know what you’re doing without reacting irrationally.”

Moore points out that technically, the county has until Nov. 17 to send final results to the state, because provisional ballots must also be counted. Provisional ballots are cast by people who do not have photo identification or who voted at the wrong polling place.

At issue in Jackson Township was a computer disc that could not be read at the courthouse annex.

In McCordsville, election officials were having problems feeding absentee ballots into the machine that tallies the ballots. The election inspector didn’t bring the ballots to the courthouse annex until 11 p.m., and by that time officials had already decided they wouldn’t be able to finish counting that night.

Moore said there was also a high voter turnout in McCordsville, and the volume plus new election workers contributed to the delay.

Moore said today, the McCordsville ballots can probably be fed through another machine easily, and they will work with the computer vendor to read the Jackson Township results. If worst comes to worst, ballots can be hand-counted.

At Eastern Hancock, the race for the at-large school board seat is close, with only 38 votes separating Scott Johnson’s lead from Michael Schrope. Both live in Jackson Township, so the results of that precinct could sway the race.

The District 3 seat is not as close. Jim Jackson has 918 votes compared to Neil Floyd’s 594.

Board candidates, all new to politics, said they were surprised at the delay. They said received a lot of phone calls and texts Wednesday from anxious friends and family.

“It’d be nice to know, but there’s not much I can do about it,” Schrope said.

“Things happen, and people make mistakes; machines make mistakes, and sometimes you just have to be patient,” Johnson said.

The remaining ballots could impact the race for Hancock County coroner as well. Democrat Crystel Myers has a significant lead over Dan Devoy and Joe Fortner. About 1,800 votes separates Myers from Devoy, and there’s a slight possibility the uncounted votes could make the race closer.

But the uncounted ballots probably won’t affect the outcome of the county commissioner and council races. The Republicans have too much of an advantage from the 40 other precincts for the results to change.

The Greenfield-Central and Southern Hancock school board elections are also set, as the uncounted ballots do not affect those races. Kathy Dowling and Ray Kerkhof won seats on the G-C school board, while Barb Snyder won re-election at Southern Hancock.

Total voter turnout can’t be determined until all of the ballots are counted. Janice Silvey, chair of the Hancock County Republican party, said Tuesday was an unusual night. On most election nights, candidates and their families gather to watch the results tallied live at the courthouse annex. But Tuesday, they weren’t just slow coming in, they were not completed at all.

“I’ve been in the Republican Party 35 years and I don’t ever remember them not finishing that night,” she said.

By state law, the election board must tabulate ballots together; no one person can process election results. Bogigian said all three election board members consented to counting ballots Thursday. In fact, Cone will be on vacation, so John Apple has been appointed as an interim board member.

“We thought it would just be best to do it (Thursday),” Bogigian said. “We would ideally have liked to have had everything done (election) night, but things just worked out that way ... We realize the importance of what we’re engaged in here, and we want to get the results finalized as quickly as possible. We regret any inconvenience or discomfort on the part of the candidates who still don’t have a final result, and we want to get it done as quickly as we can.”

The 9 a.m. board meeting to count the ballots is open to the public today. The meeting will be in the basement of the Hancock County Courthouse Annex.

For updates, visit greenfieldreporter.com.

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