Need to Know 

Who won the elections last Thursday? Well, we know -- sort of. Or think we do. But so many of them, in late-breaking county-wide races, especially, were disposed of by razor-thin margins that we -- and the candidates who ran in them -- would surely like to know what the precinct-by-precinct totals were. And, as of press time Tuesday, those totals were not forthcoming. This was five days after voting, mind you -- and five days before the time period for filing appeals will expire.

Now, we like happy endings, and hopefully those precinct vote totals will have long since been made public by the time you read this -- especially since state election coordinator Brook Thompson advises candidates to consider having their appeals on file by Friday, "to be on the safe side," as he puts it -- even though the weekend carries with it an additional grace period of one day.

Monday is it. No further reckoning past that point.

Under those circumstances, the earlier the better. Candidates, voters, and news media in Davidson County (Nashville) had full access to precinct totals almost as soon as balloting had ceased -- well before this past weekend, in any case. Was it because the Davidson County Election Commission opted for new ESS machines this year, while the Shelby County Election Commission, given a choice between ESS and Diebold, chose machines manufactured by the latter, instead?

Probably not. That sounds too pat, even for the most suspicious conspiracy theorists among us. (Diebold results have been challenged in several states, and a former executive of that company was once quoted as saying he would use any means at his disposal to get candidate George W. Bush elected president.)

What then was the problem locally? James Johnson, executive director of the Election Commission, said on Monday that his office was "ahead of the game" on getting the precinct totals ready, and that local auditors from Watkins Uberall were already on the case verifying them. They would be ready by Tuesday morning. Fine, dandy. Except they weren't.

We don't want to be judgmental. All five members of our Election Commission -- three Democrats, two Republicans; three men, two women -- are conscientious, dedicated individuals. As are Johnson and his staff. And all were faced with a brand-new ball game, with the longest and most complicated ballot in Shelby County history and using new, unfamiliar machines to boot.

All we urge is that next time -- meaning this November, when conditions should be far easier -- we should do better. The public and the candidates deserve to know everything they can, as soon as they can.

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