Technology Transforms Elections, But Nostalgia Still Remains

By Kelly Rohder

It was mid-afternoon on Election Day when I received the call. The voice on the other end was steeped in euphoria. It was a Sun-Times Media reporter calling to thank the college for the Board of Trustees election results matrix on the college website, which collected with ease the real-time voting numbers from seven counties and 468 precincts.

In over 20 years as a local journalist, she had spent countless election nights laboriously driving, dialing and tabulating. Now, she was pushing the button of her computer mouse and results flowed freely into her developing story.

Since 2009, the college has utilized an online election results application built by Jake Chase, JJC webmaster, who initially developed the tool because there was no other way to find this information online.

“No other local websites post the results from every participating county as they are coming in. We wanted to give voters and candidates the ability to see who is in the lead without having to visit several different websites,” Chase said.

This year, the web application enabled Mary Schulte and Joan Tierney to post the latest election information online by visiting each county website to get the latest voting results. After retrieving those numbers, Chase said that they then enter them into a table and when finished, they click the update button which instantly updates the database that feeds the information to the JJC website. Tierney and Schulte repeated this process until the election results are complete.

According to Tierney, Darlene Boyle and Shirley Hacker, this new electronic election age ushers in a better and more cost effective way of doing things, but Boyle says the old way brings back a lot of great memories. Below they share their thoughts:

Darlene Boyle, JJC employee since 1976:
Would you believe we used chisels and a stone to tabulate the results? Sorry, couldn’t resist that. In actuality, though, the board did not want to rely on telephone results by calling into the county clerks, therefore I had to find staff members who were willing to go to each court house and call in the results to our office. They would call us each and every time the tabulation would change in the county clerk’s office. We paid them mileage plus overtime to do this. They would start at 7 p.m. when the polls closed. In some cases, the results wouldn’t be final until late evening, midnight or later and they would stay until then.

We would set up “election central” in the outer reception area by our desks. The incoming calls would be to three phones in the area, the vice president’s office number and the two secretarial phones… We had a huge chalk board with the names of the candidates running down the side and the counties across the top. We would change the numbers as the calls came in and usually the vice president would sit there and recalculate the totals for each person as we would change the chalk board and he would holler out the present total. The process was archaic by today’s standards. In addition, we would have the various candidates, reporters and interested people calling us or coming in to see our “official election board” to see how the vote was progressing.

I remember that at the beginning of the night we ordered pizza and by 11 at night, that cold pizza even tasted great.
After the “unofficial” results were in and all precincts counted, we would take the information which by now had been downloaded into a file and take a printed copy and fax it to the various newspapers. I normally ended up using the reprographic fax machine and Joan would use the fax machine on the second floor and we kept physically dialing the newspapers and faxing the results.

One particular election, the election judge and his workers took the ballots with them as they left the polling place at 7 p.m. and went out to eat. Another time, the computers at Will County crashed and no results could be posted until after midnight. More than one election, we didn’t leave the campus until 2 or 3 a.m. One late night, or early morning should I say J. D. [J.D. Ross, former JJC president], who would also stay with us, walked Joan and I to our cars.

Shirley Hacker, JJC employee since 1974:
When I first started assisting with elections, I had to deliver the ballot information to the Kendall County Clerk’s Office prior to the election.

The night of the election, I was asked to be at the courthouse approximately one hour after the polls closed and call the college as each precinct reported in. In Kendall County there are seven precincts that are in the southeastern portion of the county. Once the seven precincts reported in, I would call in the final to the college. The tally usually took two to four hours depending on the number of items on the regular portions of the ballots.

A few days after the election, I would return to the Clerk’s office to pick up the certified results of the election and deliver them to the Darlene’s office for her final audit of the election results.

I recall one election when a precinct of judges when out for supper after the polls closed and took their ballots with them – then they went home. That night, the college people on campus finally left about 2 a.m.

Joan Tierney, JJC employee since 1996:
We set up what we referred to as election headquarters in front of what is now the vice president of student development and the vice president of academic affairs.

Darlene Boyle was the official election person. She would put together the packets for our community members to pick up and return to her. On election night, she had individuals placed at all of our seven county clerks’ offices who would call in results as they came in. Darlene and I would take the calls and put the results on a huge chalkboard and update them as they were called in. The process was exciting, but long and pretty labor intensive as far as time was concerned.

During this process we would have some of the individuals running for the board sitting with us and some were calling in to check on the results. At the end of the night, we would then have to fax the results to our reporters. There were times when we would be here until 2 a.m.

At one of our last gatherings before we switched to the electronic version, we were waiting and waiting and waiting for results from one of the precincts and were later told that the group decided to stop for a bite to eat before turning in the results. It’s so much smoother now, just a matter of doing input and accessing county websites—instant information on results.

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