It was nine hours before polls were scheduled to open when the full scope of an election disaster months in the making finally hit home for Marion County Clerk Beth White.
Exhausted from the scramble to find more than 900 poll inspectors, White stood in a Downtown union hall surrounded by a sprawl of boxes stuffed with election material. They should not have been there.
Poll inspectors had not shown up to claim ballots, poll lists and instructions for more than 200 precincts. There was no contingency plan for a breakdown of that magnitude.
"I was heartsick," White said in an extensive interview on what went wrong during Tuesday's primary. "It was shaping up to be a disaster."
Yet White still didn't sound the alarm, just as she hadn't in previous weeks, when signs of the crisis were emerging.
O'Shaughnessy observes that White's office made a change in the way inspectors are recruited. In the past, the controlling county party recruited election day inspectors. This year, Democrats decided to cede this responsibility to the clerk's office, which turned out to be a major mistake. On this score, O'Shaugnessy tells us White knew at least two weeks prior to the election the process of finding inspectors was not going well. He writes:
Post-election analysis reveals warning signals at least two weeks before Tuesday. The list of potential inspectors was in constant flux, as volunteers dropped out in the weeks before the primary. Inspectors never were assigned for at least 33 precincts.
By the time training ended Sunday, more than 350 inspectors had not collected their materials. But White, a Democrat who was elected clerk in November, did not appeal for the public's help. Nor did she seek help from Republicans, who had run elections for the past 36 years in Marion County. In past elections, the GOP had often asked for Democrats' help in filling many spots in the final week.
White said that option never occurred to her . . .
The resulting debacle Tuesday left thousands of voters frustrated as dozens of polls opened late because of missing inspectors, incorrect ballots or the wrong keys for counting machines. Five precincts never opened, disenfranchising more than 3,200 voters.
One of the problems O'Shaugnessy discovered was White's office's inability to understand the meaning of the word "no". Judy Archer explains how she received phone call after phone call over the past several weeks. "In the past three weeks, she said, she received numerous mailings and at least three calls reminding her to pick up materials for the more involved role of inspector at Robin Run Village, a retirement center in Pike Township," O"Shaughnessy writes. "The last call came at 11 p.m. Monday, she said. She again told the caller it was a mistake." "No one ever asked me to be an inspector, and I never said I would," said Archer, who did work Tuesday as a clerk. "I tried to make it clear I had another job, but they weren't listening."
The lists from which White's office were working were inadequate to say the least. O'Shaughnessy reports that White's office at first refused to release the lists to him because she said she feared people on the list would be unfairly blamed. When she did finally produce the lists, White conceded to O'Shaughnessy that the lists were "unorganized and inaccurate."
There are signs the Peterson administration is trying to shift as much responsibility to White's office for the election day fiasco as possible. "It was so chaotic that Keira Amstutz, Mayor Bart Peterson's policy director and chief counsel, was listed as an inspector despite her plans to campaign with the mayor Tuesday," OShaughnessy writes. "She said she was still getting calls Monday about an assignment at the polls." "[Marion Co. Democratic Chairman Mike] O'Connor said they thought letting the clerk handle the inspectors would make the process less partisan and more organized." "We have some role in the blame here," he said. "Clearly, I didn't ride herd enough on the process." "I wasn't aware of the scope of the problem" he adds.
Again, I will repeat my concern of the lack of care local Democrats have shown concerning the voters who were completely denied an opportunity to participate in last Tuesday's election. It is simply inexcusable that they aren't insisting on a revote in those five precincts which never opened on Tuesday. Frankly, I'm surprised the Republicans haven't pushed this issue. The idea of prosecuting the inspectors who didn't show, as suggested by GOP Chairman Tom John, is simply ludicrous in light of all the latest disclosures. The only person guilty of failing to perform their election responsibilities is Beth White.