Election night is sometimes spent waiting to no avail

Election days have not always run like a Swiss watch in Beaufort County.

Unless, of course, the Swiss watch had been dropped overboard into a bank of pluff mud.

At the newspaper, we've had that sinking, stuck-in-the-mud feeling on many election nights over the years.

Covering election results is like covering a plane wreck, except you know well in advance the time and place of the crash.

But even then, and with deadlines pushed past midnight, many an election night we limped to press with virtually blank "results" charts.

Who knows, some people may still be waiting in line to cast their 1996 ballots.

That was the year our "results" chart showed only one precinct counted on election night for all of southern Beaufort County. For the record, Chechessee voted for Bob Dole over Bill Clinton, 244-68. To this day, you never hear anyone say, "As goes Chechessee, so goes the nation."

Many years, we waited on the voting box to arrive from Daufuskie Island by boat. And nothing was counted until Daufuskie arrived.

For the debacle of 1996, the county had an airplane waiting to zoom all the southern Beaufort County votes from Hilton Head Island Airport to Frogmore International, then to the county office building in Beaufort to be counted. But the airplane was still sitting on the ground at 10:30 p.m. while officials waited on the last three precincts to report.

"You could have sent a bicycle quicker with the ballots than the plane last night," a frustrated County Council Chairman Thomas C. Taylor said the next day.

One year they blamed humidity for jamming cards in vote-counting machines. Another year, replacement voting-machine parts were rocketed down the highway in a high-speed Highway Patrol relay.

One year, the elections office chief famously said we shouldn't criticize her until we had walked a mile in her moccasins. Which raised the question of why we never thought to send smoke signals on election night.

But as I write this on another election day afternoon, holding my breath and setting my Swiss watch to Lowcountry Standard Time, it would be appropriate to salute two election-night warriors who passed away this year.

James Richardson of Beaufort, once denied the right to vote because of the color of his skin, and Cecil Reynolds of Bluffton, who helped tally votes for decades in a town that honored him by declaring this election day Cecil P. Reynolds Day, knew firsthand democracy could get messy. But they got involved. They gave all they had for the seemingly simple right to vote.