Sunday, November 12, 2000

A look back

'71 council candidates familiar with delays

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Candidates for city council in 1971 know how it feels right now to be George W. Bush and Al Gore.

        The county's general election of Nov. 2, 1971 dragged on for five days without any clear winner because the Coleman electronic voting machines broke down on Election Day.

        “Vote Count System Fails Completely” and “Plain Fact Is Th' Damn Thing Can't Count” were the headlines of the day.

        County officials had to repair and test the machines before the official count could take place — no simple task on the newfangled computerized machines.

        The votes were finally tallied on the following Sunday.

        Tom Luken, who was running for council that year, got a jolt when he saw the first election returns come in. The first precinct was in Mount Adams, and had Mr. Luken running 20th.

        “I knew everybody in Mount Adams by their first name,” Mr. Luken said. “Then I looked at some of the other returns, and realized something was wrong.”

        That's how election officials figured out there was something wrong, too.

        The electronic machines were only 7 years old at the time and had cost the county more than $1.6 million. Another $500,000 was spent on upgrading the machines just before the 1971 election.

        Results weren't tallied with the new machines until the early morning hours. That led election officials to pick 10 “representative” precincts in 1971 that would give the media and candidates an earlier indication of which way the races were headed.

        The first returns in 1971 were so out-of-whack with expectations that officials determined there were errors.

        Still, after the machines were fixed, John A. Wiethe, then chairman of the Board of Elections, stood by the accuracy of the machines.

        “If some of our candidates are bold enough to ask for a recount, we'll be glad to take a little of their cabbage,” Mr. Wiethe said, referring to a $10 per precinct fee candidates had to pay for a recount.

        Today, Mr. Luken says the experience wasn't that bad.

        “I don't remember being totally upset,” Mr. Luken said. “Actually, it was kind of funny.”

Ohio also has trouble with punch-card ballots
- A look back
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