Former County Clerk and state Senator, Evelyn Bowles, died at 94 on Friday. She was an institution unto herself and rightly so. My path first crossed hers when I became an election judge and she was county clerk overseeing elections. She knew what she was doing and made sure her staff did as well so that elections ran smoothly. Madison County elections were run better than most or even all, at least in the St. Louis and Metro East area.
The county clerks who followed her after she became a state senator continued the excellence in running elections. I have no doubt that her efforts trickled down and no one wanted to mess with success. I was an election judge for 25 years and watched as new technology came in long before other counties or states got on board. As an example, shortly after the 2000 presidential debacle with the hanging chads etc, the Madison County clerk's office got to work on finding a new type of ballot in order to eliminate the chad problems. This was during the Mark Von Nida years. The first ballot change was to the opti scan format where voters filled in the circles on a paper ballot. This ballot was then slid into a machine which recorded the votes. But. The problem with this was that when sliding the ballot into the machine, the votes were obvious to anyone standing near the machine.
So, the Von Nida crew went to work and invented a cardboard sleeve with an opening in the bottom fold. This made it possible for the voter to put the top of the ballot into the machine and then push the bottom enough so it slid in. The sleeve was so much of a success that the clerk's office offered it around to other counties and states. They may even have copyrighted it. Interestingly, when I voted in Clayton's local election a couple of weeks ago, there was no touch screen option, only opti scan and there were the cardboard sleeves at the end. I told the election judge about the history of the sleeve and she didn't seem too bored by my going on and on about how this came about.
But then after an election or two with those paper ballots, Madison County brought in the touch screens which automatically counted the votes and at the end of the night the judges pushed a button and that precinct's totals were right there. This made the end of an election night much easier for everyone and the results were made public very quickly.
This efficiency in getting vote totals out to the public is still not emulated by way too many counties and states. Why the rest can't do what Madison does is beyond me. Over here in Missouri we wait forever to learn who wins.
All this to say that this is due in large part to the example set by Evelyn Bowles. Not one to sit tight and do things the way we've always done them, she was open to new things, better ways of doing things, and that filtered down to those who came after her.