Marj Creech February 20, 2008
But when this SC voter said, " I remember when we used to hand-count all the ballots; I was the Democratic Party Precinct Committeeperson..," my ears perked up and I asked if I could interview her later that night. This was not hard since she was my own sister, Carol Creech, and I was staying at her house, on my way from Ohio to Florida. Here is the story she told me, as we sat on the couch in the living room, with several cats draped around us.
It was 1978, the midterm in Greenville. It was not a simple ballot; there were state and county offices, Senators, and several issues. The big one for me was getting a resolution before the legislature to extend the time for states to approve the Equal Rights Amendment. You know I had been working for that forever! That's how I got selected to be the Precinct Committeeperson, my involvement in the Democratic Party. Oh yeah, back then the parties ran their own Primaries. The Democrats were the main party--the Republicans had NO foothold in the state then.
The election was in a gym. I was responsible for running the Primary in my precinct, so I had to do everything—reserve the gym, remind them it was time for the election, get the tables, set them up, get the polling stations set up--the booths were made of scrap lumber with plain cotton muslin as the walls. I had to set them up with whoever I got as volunteers. Yeah, I had to recruit all the poll workers and counters for my precinct; I got on the phone and called everybody in the precinct; in those days you actually knew your neighbors. I got whoever I could--for four hours, even two hours--they were happy to do it if they could; it was for their precinct, after all. No, there was no pay, not even for me! I even got two Republican neighbors to help; they said it was fun. The Republicans didn't even have a Primary in those days! Oh and I didn't even stay for the whole day, I had to go to work! I came back at lunchtime and after work to help, and close down, and count the votes. Every poll worker and counter had to sign an oath that they'd perform their duty honestly and fairly.
They had pencils and a small shelf in the voting booths and voters checked a box next to their choices. The ballots were printed in Greenville by a local print shop. They tore off the numbered perforated slip on the ballot for us to save, and then folded their ballot once and put it into the box themselves. Whoever was in line at 7 pm when we closed, got to vote.
After they all voted, we locked the doors, quickly took down the booths and opened the ballot box and dumped all the ballots out on the table. At that point we had to have five poll workers. One person read the choices off, just in the order they were, and another person watched. The other three wrote down the votes as they were called out, and made marks on the tally sheets. I told them to use the box method: you draw the sides of a box, then a slash through the box, instead of five hash marks, because hash marks can be misread. I learned to do that when I worked for the Census Bureau. Then we went over our totals and if all three people had the same number, that was the total. If even one was off, we recounted that race, until all three agreed.
"Did it take all night?" I asked. "No, it took about one hour." (I acted incredulous and she said, "Well, maybe two hours.")
The results were signed by me and one witness. That page had carbon copies--I think we posted one on the door and I took one home to keep.
"So you could still have it?" She glanced around the house as if it might be in a box in a closet somewhere.
I put the original results paper back in the box along will all the ballots and the registration lists, and locked it back up and took it out to the trunk of my car. I drove to the Curb Market building in downtown Greenville. There a mob greeted me as soon as I walked in the door, carrying my box. There were candidates, supporters, officials, reporters, and TV cameramen, all asking me, "What precinct, what precinct?" We were often first because we were so close to the Reporting Station.
I could actually feel a tingly excitement as she told me about election night, where all the stakeholders could actually watch the votes being totaled up, in chalk, before their eyes.
She said that after a few years SC went to punch cards, then after that, touchscreens. And SC went Republican somewhere in there. She thought it may have been the "Religious Right."