Counting votes turns surreal

Amid yawns and the occasional swear word, the ballots were counted by hand Wednesday night. And Thursday morning.

As one counter yelled out the names on each ballot, the talleys were kept. A pretty fair and accurate system, if this was 1821, before computers or voting machines. But in the first Student Association elections of the third millennium, it seemed out of date.

For four years, I have been fascinated by what the men and women did upstairs as I waited and waited and waited below. It seemed each year, as I struggled to meet my deadline, the tactics became more arcane.

First, it was just machines and an answer by 1 a.m. That worked for two years. Then came last year’s fiasco, where tons of write-in ballots supplemented the machines and kept us late into the night. And now, machines were not even an option. It was back to the good old days, before the Industrial Revolution.

But this time, there was no party at J Street. The thought of an all-paper ballot election led to the realization that no one would stay up all night to hear these results.

But they were wrong.

Throughout the evening and into the morning, candidates and their supporters filed into the Student Organization Resource Center on the Marvin Center’s fourth floor, sneaking a peek at the latest totals or taking a seat for the long haul.

The anxious participants stopped in, checked the butcher paper, and either winced or smiled. But all grimaced at the slow pace.

The actual counting didn’t start until 10 p.m. Wednesday, after checking that no one had voted twice. No one did, or at least got caught. Brad Simm, whoever that is, will be happy to know his write-in vote for undergraduate at large and CSAS senator were the first to be recorded.

There were moments of levity throughout the night. A pen fight almost broke out among the election committee members tallying the votes. Wisecracks between the Student Association Election Committee Chair Jeff Baxter and SA President Caity Leu, who happen to be dating and living with each other, were a common occurrence.

Pizza and soda were there for all the passers-by. Not enough caffeinated beverages, considering the sleep depravation that was imminent.

Down the hall, another election count was going on. The Program Board and Marvin Center Governing Board elections were moving at a much quicker pace. It’s always easier with only a couple of races and a few candidates.

Even before the first voting booth was finished, rumors began to fill the small office. Would there be a runoff? Who won PB chair? Would we ever get out of here?

The halls were locked in the Marvin Center at midnight. No one could get in, and those who left could not get back. But it didn’t seem anyone was going anywhere anytime soon. The number of yellow ballots seemed to multiply as the hour got later.

After a few hours, a groove developed. The average time for a single ballot went from a disastrous 15 seconds each to a more reasonable 10 seconds. But with thousands of ballots to sort through, you do the math. And even with a nice healthy flow, there were always things to trip up the counters. There were two people named Sanchez, one for Columbian School and one for undergraduate at large. And Rothstein and Rothman sound a helluva lot alike when you haven’t slept in a week.

Names began to run together. Burt Resler and Qarni Voss became candidates as they were yelled out in rapid succession.

At times the peanut gallery got restless, or downright loud. No one can stay quiet for so many hours. Cell phones would ring, people would be summoned to the outside hall. Drunken student leaders sang in the room next door. Impromptu strategy sessions and massage parlors spawned up in the back room.

Some of the world’s best, in both politics and beyond, found their way into the SA tally. Howard Stern got a vote, as did the Jedi Master Yoda. Satan got a couple. And so did an entire different species – Moose, was written down for two different offices.

There are many nights I will remember in my college career, and many others I will hope to forget. This is definitely one of the latter.

And electioneers kept counting. They signed up for this position, some weary of the reputation their predecessors had amassed. But none of them knew the voting machines were never going to be programmed. It wasn’t until after midnight that they had finished the first day’s totals from the Marvin Center. One down, so many to go.

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