People: Election Officer Bob Allen

November 01, 2004|HERB BROCK

I wish Bob Allen had been around the first time I voted.

Allen is a longtime local precinct election officer, and, according to his bosses in the Boyle County clerk's office, is very competent. Competence is not a word to describe the officers I had to deal with when I cast my very first ballot in November 1972.

My wife and I were newlyweds and living in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment in Lexington. But it apparently was big enough to be in two precincts.

When we went to vote at a nearby fire station, my wife was quickly processed and voted. The election officers couldn't find my name on the voter registration book. They told me I needed to go to the Fayette County clerk's office at the courthouse downtown. I asked them to call. They told me to hit the road.


A deputy county clerk said I was registered in another precinct, gave me a card and I went to that precinct's voting station and voted. I later learned I also was registered in the same precinct where I lived and, if the lazy election officers had bothered to check their voter registration books more carefully, they could let me vote in the right precinct and cleared up the mess with a call to the county clerk's office.

I was so ticked off I vowed I would never vote again. My mood wasn't helped by the news later that day that I had gone through all that trouble to vote for a big-time loser. For the first and last time in my life, I was a member of the "youth vote" age group, and in 1972 it was supposed to help propel Democrat George McGovern to the White House. The propeller, as well as the wings and wheels, fell off on McGovern's flight to D.C.

From a conversation I recently had with Allen and the folks at the Boyle clerk's office, the mess I encountered 32 years ago would never happen with him around. County Clerk Denise Curtsinger talks highly of the dedicated people who serve those long, 12-hour days as election officers, and they cite Allen as example of one of the best. They're confident Allen and the other dedicated precinct officers will handle what is expected to be a big turnout.

Could be a pinch hitter Tuesday

Allen said he is "excited" about Tuesday's election and counts on being selected as a pinch hitter. He has asked Curtsinger to designate him as an alternate because he loves to serve at different precincts around the county, "meet different people" and "enjoy the amazing cultural diversity that is Boyle County."

Chances are that he will be called from the bench. He has served as an election officer for about 10 years and has worked the two dozen or so primary and general elections held over that period.

"Working as an election officer gives me a window to get to know and observe people," said Allen, a Marion County native who is a retired chemist, engineer and teacher and Danville resident for more than 30 years. "You get a taste of the flavor and texture of the community, and this community is lot more diverse than people might think. "Serving as an election officer is a very serious responsibility. You're dealing with the most fundamental right of a democracy, and you must do the best job you can to ensure that people are able to exercise that right without any problems or mistakes," he said.

The 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. election day can be long, and it grows longer when the voting is light. Allen said he will take the "near chaos" of a heavy vote over the "near boredom" of a light vote any day.

"We (election officers) would rather be busy than idle. It's more exciting when there are a lot of voters, and, of course, that means more people to meet and watch," he said.

In recent years, there have been relatively few voting problems in Boyle County. There have been occasions when a precinct with a heavy registration and turnout only had one functioning voting machine. There have been situations involving possible violations of the state's now dormant electioneering law. There was that time in the late 1980s when 44 Republicans inadvertently were allowed to vote in a Democratic primary. And there are the times when voting machines malfunction. But Allen has never witnessed any major problems at the polls where he as worked.

"There has been an occasion or two when a voter has wanted to 'help' other voters with their selections or with the actual voting on the machine, but I've witnessed very few problems," he said. "In that respect, it has been a pretty event-free job with few moments of unpleasantness, at least for me.

"Now, there occasionally have been times when a voter might feel that an officer has been a bit testy, but those officers didn't mean anything personal. It's just that some officers are real sticklers, and that's a good thing," he said. "But the word I would use to describe the attitude and intention of most of the officers I've worked with would be accommodating."

Got started in mid-1990s

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