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Published: Tuesday, 8/10/2004

Keyboard clicks are the music of democracy

Tap, tap. Click. Click.

"Boy, I can't even tell you," said Andrea Taliga, computer keystrokes continuing without pause.

I'd just asked her how many times she'd stapled herself to a chair and sat there, hour after hour, validating voter petition signatures.

"We do this every year," said Andrea, who's worked at the Lucas County Board of Elections nearly 10 years.

This was yesterday, the day the elections board reported that the amended city smoking ban up would go to a vote.

Remember all this ruckus?

Opponents of Toledo's smoking ban - Ohio's toughest - tried last year to soften the measure.

But the first petition drive failed by 972 signatures, which steeled opponents to get back out there, clipboards in hand, and try again.

Last week, they dropped off 16,038 signatures at the elections board, where they've been tallying ever since.

"Hey, 8,000!" announced Andrea, reciting the midmorning count as recorded by her computer. Around her, colleagues softly cheered.

With 9,455 valid signatures needed, she and her deskmates, Olga Vallejo and Kelly Mettler, typed on, their computers spitting out the rhythm of democracy.

Tap, tap. Click, click.

On Friday, Andrea checked 654 signatures. Saturday, without ringing phones, she knocked off 877. Yesterday, in her U-shaped cube, that ubiquitous oyster color of offices and bureaucracies, she was still at it.

Andrea entered the name on each line of the petition into the computer, cross-checking name and address against the elections board database.

Then, she compared the signature with the voter registration card.

If there's any room for subjectivity, it is here: "Everyone's signature changes," Andrea said.

A few years ago, her very own absentee ballot (if you work at the elections board, the last thing you have time for on voting day is casting your own ballot) was almost rejected, so far had her signature deviated.

But at the moment, the object of concern was "Richard O'Cara," who seemed to live on a street that began with C-h. Andrea and Kelly, heads bent together, tried to decipher either name or address.

"Try entering 'C-h-r-a.' Does that get anything?" said Kelly.

Tap, tap. Click, click.

"Nothing," said Andrea.

"What's the last name?" Olga asked from the next desk over.

"We have no idea," said Kelly, "but see how he makes his Rs and As?"

"Maybe," Andrea suggested, "that 'O' is a middle initial?"

But no amount of permutation brings a hit on the computer screen; Richard O'Whoever is written off as "illegible."

It looks to me as if the line-by-line business of democracy is tedious, but not so to Andrea.

"I like doing this. It's relaxing. This place can get pretty hectic, but I'm the kind of person who could sit and do data entry all day."

Me, my eyeballs are almost bleeding.

Tap, tap. Click, click.

It's almost enough to make a nonsmoker reach for a cigarette.



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