The Times West Virginian

November 8, 2012

Want to know how to run an election? Come to Marion County

Times West Virginian

— 9:30 p.m. Just two short hours after the polls closed in Marion County, the unofficial tallies for all federal, state, county and local races were handed to those waiting at the Election Center on Tuesday night.

Done. We’d even go so far as to say that Marion County’s returns were almost complete before a few counties even started. Glitches in neighboring counties caused delays.

It’s not that Marion County hasn’t had glitches in the past. In fact, the super efficient method for collecting returns from the county’s 77 precincts was planned to prevent long days and late nights when it comes to tallying the victors in races on the ballot.

We all remember the primary of 2004. At that point, the county had a scanner system that would take ballots marked with pencil by voters and tally the votes, much like a standardized test. But in May 2004, overvoting became a huge issue. The secretary of state’s race happened to be split between two columns, and while that isn’t much of an issue, two candidates with strong ties to Marion County were both running for the position — and those candidates were split between the two columns.

What apparently happened was voters would scroll down, see the local candidate and fill in the little oval next to the name. They would go to the next column of the ballot and maybe change their mind. They would attempt to erase the first mark, or in some cases “X” it out and then mark the second. When the scanners started to read the ballots, they would spit these out. At that point, a ballot commission would have to determine voter intent, gumming up the entire process.

It took almost 24 hours to complete the count.

By the general election of 2004, the county had invested a considerable amount of money into electronic voting. And that investment paid off. Starting that election, a 9:30 p.m. finish time was not unheard of. In fact, it’s come to be expected.

A few years ago, the county streamlined the process even more by using the former Bauer Lumber Building and turning it into the Marion County Election Center. No longer would poll workers’ cars have to pull up to the curb of the courthouse and have supplies and machines dropped over on the street corner and walked through the building. The large loading area with a front and back door meant that cars could drive through the building, drop off supplies and returns, and drive right back out.

We may have even invented drive-through vote collecting.

The system Marion County has put in place works. But it’s not just the system itself. It’s the people.

Janice Cosco, Mary Gay Priolette and the employees of the Marion County Clerk’s office, Fairmont City Clerk Janet Keller, county commissioners Butch Tennant, Randy Elliott and Guy Ward, county administrator Kris Cinalli, Marion County employees and the election volunteers and poll workers absolutely must be commended on the work they accomplish each and every election. The center functions like a well-oiled machine, pumping out the returns in near-record time every year.

Change is embraced, the system is modified as needed and in compliance with election rules, and issues are solved before they even become problems.

If anyone wants to know how to run an election, they would need to look no further than Marion County.