It was expected that the Iraqi war, terrorism and a sagging economy would stir up Clay County voters and fill the voting booths. And, indeed, some people experienced long lines, long waits and standing in the rain for the opportunity to cast their vote. However, the 55.6 percent of 19,716 registered voters who showed up at the polls on a warm but rainy 2004 election day was not a record.It was not even as good as four years ago, when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore for President.
Poll worker Betty Clerk, in Brazil Precinct 4, Jackson 3 at Forest Park School said that people were lined up, standing in the rain at 5:45 a.m. waiting for the polls to open so they could vote.
Although it wasn't constant, waits were as long as 35 minutes in Posey Township Precinct 3 at the Staunton Elementary School and almost an hour in Jackson Township Precinct 2 at the Firehouse.
Robin Yocom voted in Jackson Township Precinct 1 at Wesley Chapel Annex, using up a good deal of her lunch time to vote.
"I figured that was the only time I would be able to get there today," Yocom said. When asked why she was willing to sacrifice her lunch time to vote, she said, "I did it because it my duty to do it."
Clay County wasn't alone with long lines and waits. Barbara Marlowe of Vigo County voted in Riley Township at Riley School. She said while she only had to wait 10 minutes or so, there was quite a line when she came out.
"I noticed it was mostly younger people with little kids," Marlowe said. "They looked to be in their 20s and 30s. I think the younger population has gotten out."
The 55.6 percent Clay County effort was slightly lower than the national turnout of 60 per cent according to an AP report. And County Clerk Mary Brown said just four years ago the Clay County turnout was 57 percent.
County Councilwoman Rita Rothrock, a former Circuit Court Clerk who was in charge of the election process, said there have been times that voter turnout in Clay County ran as high as 75 percent.
"Clay County always had a good turnout," Rothrock said. That changed with the Motor Voter law."
The number of people voting didn't alter much but because of the new process, the percentages changed. The Motor Voter law in the mid to late 90s prevented names from being purged from the voter registration rolls without State authorization. That elevated the number of voter registrations but didn't give an accurate count of actual eligible voters.
Voters also expected quick election results with the new voting machines. Most interested observers were surprised and frustrated when final results didn't come out until almost midnight.
Brown said the machines did speed up the tabulating process after the polls were closed. The biggest factor impeding the final results was the Jeff Lee and Brooks LaPlante fiasco involving counting absentee ballots.
LaPlante's name was on the ballots after Lee dropped out of the race. But a Marion Co. judge said that Lee's name had to be on it. Brown did as she was advised by legal council and had the absentee ballots reprinted and mailed out with Lee's name.
The Indiana State Supreme Court reversed that decision. When ballots were returned, some had LaPlante listed, others had Lee.
Republican and Democrat leaders at the state level agreed that votes for Lee would not be counted. If people voted straight party Republican tickets, the votes on those ballots would be counted for LaPlante, whether or LaPlante or Lee was listed on the ballot.
The winner of that race had not been determined by press time.