Of course, when the process does not work, as with the infamous “hanging chads” of Florida during the 2000 presidential elections, questions about the legitimacy of an election surface. There are some, to this day, who believe Al Gore was cheated out of the presidency.
Incidents which call into question an election, unfortunately, happen at times in communities across America. Sadly, Surry County is now among those communities.
Yesterday voters were surprised, and understandably upset, to learn unless they were registered Democrats they were not on the rolls of registered voters.
Local election officials said the problem was the voter lists used at the voting locations were the same as those used for the Democratic primary, and the mistake was corrected fairly early in the day. Those wishing to cast ballots were offered the opportunity to wait while their registration status was checked, by telephone, at the board of elections office in Dobson. Problem was, with just five incoming phone lines the wait proved to be too long for some.
Those not wanting to wait were offered the chance to use a paper ballot, but some voters expressed a mistrust in those.
The local polling hours were also extended until 8:30 p.m. to accommodate those who may not have been able to wait earlier in the day.
“As far as I know, there wasn’t any net damage,” said Hugh Campbell, a Mount Airy attorney who chairs the Surry County Board of Elections.
The problem is, there is no way to be sure of that. Perhaps a half-dozen voters were stymied in their desire to vote. Maybe 60. The number would even be higher — 600, maybe a couple of thousand. While those higher numbers are not likely, no one can be certain.
And that is the real shame in all of this — local voters were, to use a termed which came into wide use during that “hanging chad” incident, disenfranchised. Unable to cast a vote, or at least cast one with confidence it would be counted properly.
That this is the second major snafu to strike Surry County during the past two elections — a year ago, Teresa Lewis was declared Mount Airy’s new mayor, only to have that decision reversed in Deborah Cochran’s favor when it was discovered some votes were added incorrectly — brings into question how the local election office oversees voting.
Hindsight, of course, is always 20/20. Still, just as we said in 2009 it might have been prudent to take a few minutes to recheck the mayoral election results before announcing a winner, it might have been a good idea to have reviewed the registration rolls a day or two before Tuesday’s election.
It is hard to say whether there will be any fall-out from Tuesday’s problems. In all likelihood, the election results would have been the same.
But we’ll never know.