RICHARDSON: It ain’t over

December 1, 2013 

Yogi Berra, former New York Yankee star, had a knack for catchy phrases. He is said to have uttered, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Chances are he didn’t say that at all. Rather, he probably said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” The phrase, “The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” while used colloquially forever, was first published in 1976, in a quote from Texas Tech Sports Information Director Ralph Carpenter. Some give Dan Cook, a San Antonio TV sportscaster, the credit, but it really doesn’t matter, we all know what it means, and our fat lady of the 2013 election cycle (no offense to the fat lady) has yet to belt her final note. Darn it.

Councilmen Henry Ficklin and Larry Schlesinger will go at it again at some undisclosed date in January. Almost two years ago, the fat lady was scheduled to sing on Nov. 5, but in the 2013 legislative session, that was changed to July 16 by our all-wise, all-knowing, local legislative delegation, at least the Republican members. We’ve had hell to pay ever since.

The July date was kicked to the curb in June by the U.S. Department of Justice because the change had not been precleared. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Voting Rights case took the preclearance ability away from the Justice Department and the Bibb County Commission set the date to the original Nov. 5 date.

But by the afternoon of the commission’s vote, there was a lawsuit filed by commission candidate Mallory Jones. The Bibb Board of Elections, in a contentious vote, decided on a Sept. 17 date. That vote temporarily cost the vice chair of the board, Steve Allen, the Democratic representative, his job. It was later ruled that only a judge could remove him, not the local Democratic Party.

So the fat lady was supposed to sing after the closing of the polls on Sept. 17, and she did sing a couple of arias, but five races needed runoffs: the office of mayor in the new government between former Mayor C. Jack Ellis and current Mayor Robert Reichert; the race for the District 2 seat between Ficklin and Schlesinger; the District 4 race between Mallory Jones and Beverly Olson; the District 6 race between Ed DeFore and Adah Roberts; and the District 8 race between Charles Jones and Virgil Watkins.

The fat lady belted out her final aria, so we thought, on Oct. 15. In the mayor’s race there was a conclusive finale. Reichert won by almost 11,000 votes. DeFore, Mallory Jones, Watkins and Schlesinger also won. But with only 26 votes separating Ficklin and Schlesinger, the orchestra kept on playing, first through a recount and then through a court.

The continued overture had its root during the early voting period before the Sept. 17 election.

Whether it was new state software or local ineptness, voters were placed in the wrong districts, primarily in District 2 and District 3 -- although there also were discrepancies between District 4 and District 6. Obviously, the Bibb Board of Elections never got a handle on the problems.

I’m sure there is plenty of blame to go around. But with modern technology, the authors of the districts, with a simple Google Maps search, could have discovered that a district line cut through an apartment complex and would cause problems, perceptually if nothing else.

Some can charge that Ficklin is just being a big baby. Think what you will. I’m no fan of Henry’s, but in this case he’s absolutely right. The next election should be supervised by the state as Ficklin’s lawsuit requests. More than that, the state and the board of elections should explain what happened and how the issues were fixed -- if they were fixed. Confidence in the local board’s ability to pull this off is at an all-time low. And it’s difficult to say with any certainty that the 2013 elections were entirely accurate.

Voters must have confidence in the process, and they should understand, if they didn’t before, that every vote counts.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet @richard1020.

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