Courthouse gets a little crazy on election night

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 9, 2003

While politicians, their families and election

aficionados pace the floors with sweaty palms and pounding hearts, the votes are finally counted.

The precinct results fall into the hands of an elections board member who strolls toward the crowd, keeping a safe distance away by staying behind a table. The voter return hits the table, and like a pack of tigers chasing a steak, the crowd lunges for the coveted piece of paper.

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Rather than sitting up all night by the television or waiting to receive the newspaper, Lawrence Countians are known to pack the courthouse on election night every year, regardless of whether or not they are running for office.

Hosscat Clothing owner Donnie Townsend said the experience gives people a personal high. Townsend has been an election night regular since age 16.

"It is for the excitement. It's for the exhilaration you get, the experience you get," he said. "Someone referred to it as it being like doing drugs. For two or three hours, you're on this high that overpowers you. Whether or not that high is lost depends on whether or not the candidate you were supporting has won."

The returns, he said, are the most coveted item on election night and people do almost anything to get them.

"I've seen bribery with food or drink to get their hands on precincts," he said. "I'm guilty, and by golly, I did it the other night. You think you're at an auction. When someone comes out with those returns, they don't know where the people from Symmes Township are standing. You would be surprised at what negotiations people will go through for a piece of paper."

Before running for office, anyone considering political office should come to the courthouse, Townsend said. This will give a person lessons on how - and how not - to behave toward others. Someone who is arrogant will not get their hands on a return, but a respectful person will, he said.

South Point Mayor Bill Gaskin, elected to his seventh term this year, has been a regular on election night for the past 25 years.

"It's crazy," he said, laughing. "All those people are gathered around, pushing and shoving. There were a couple hundred people, I guess (this year). The floor was full. People come in there joyful, find out they got beat and they aren't near as joyful."

Kitts Hill resident Fred Wells has been a regular at the courthouse since the early 1980s, when he began running for Rock Hill Board of Education. Even when he is not a candidate, Wells is still a regular.

"I just like to see the results and see who wins," he said. "It's wild. Everyone grabs the sheets to see who won in each precinct.

This year was more frenzied than others, Wells said, because more people were interested in the various races.

Hamilton Township Trustee Bob Blankenship has been going to the courthouse for more than 20 years - even during years he is not running. Like many others, he brings almost his entire family and several supporters with him when his name is on the ballot.

"It gets in your blood, I reckon," he said. "It's just fun and a good time."

While most of the defeated quickly and quietly leave the courthouse, the victors celebrate boisterously.

"They hoop, holler and yell a lot," Gaskin said. "I know my gang did."

When the winners, losers, supporters and spectators walk out the door, lives dominated by politics change.

"It's a big relief," Blankenship said. "You go at it hard for about three months. You go to work, you go home and then you're out again."

Nevertheless, there will always be next year, and the election aficionados are ready.

"Of course, as long as I'm still here, I'll be headed down there," Wells said.