On a riser at the front of the room sat a large whiteboard with the names Bland, Cooper and Stoughton across the top. A fourth column with the word "Other" fit along the right edge.
Tallies were recorded by Maxine Miller in black marker.
To begin the process, Vera Pinrod shouted, "Cooper!" twice. Two tallies were recorded under Raymond’s name as the VFW section of the Town Hall, which included 14 members, cheered in anticipation of the expected landslide victory of their champion.
Cooper, always confident, grinned. It was a good start for the "Man of the People."
Their cheers came to an almost immediate halt as Vera shouted, "Bland," reading the name on the third ballot.
The anticipation was palpable. Inside the room, 100 lucky lottery winners waited. Outside, speakers were set up so those not fortunate enough to get inside could hear.
Before the vote count began, Vera announced there was a record turnout to mark ballots for mayor. In the previous election, just the usual 800 or so good folks turned out. According to the records of the precinct coordinators, a total of 934 voters had marked ballots on this election day. That was all but four of the registered voters in the Valley.
"Cooper!" Vera shouted, followed by cheers from the VFW section.
"Bland!" she continued the count, as Iris Long jotted the results on her reporter’s pad.
After five minutes of tallying, the board indicated 24 votes for Raymond Cooper, 19 votes for "Silver Tongue" Dick Bland, and no votes for Juliet Stoughton.
Raymond began to breathe more easily as his concern that Juliet’s last minute entrance might harm his chances of getting a majority, which was needed to win the mayor’s race outright, dwindled away.
Finally, at the 5:07 mark, Vera shouted, "Mickey Mouse!" and the crowd laughed. Mickey, along with Ima Goose, Ronald Reagan and a few others, generally received a dozen or more votes, but wasted ballots were much less common during the 1998 race. It was obvious one vote could make a difference.
The laughter subsided as Vera announced the name on ballot 45, "Juliet Stoughton."
There were no boos or cheers, as had been the case every time Cooper or Bland received a vote. There was just an audible sigh.
Finally, Marvin Walsh, watching from the VFW section, shouted, "I guess she had to vote for herself!" as several folks inside Town Hall and outside on the front steps laughed in response.
Not everyone laughed. Outside, Earl Goodman’s laugh quickly subsided as his wife Rhonda, who was sleeping separately from him for only the second time in their marriage, gave him a look that sent chills up his spine.
"Stoughton!" shouted Vera, calling out Juliet’s name again.
Raymond received the next vote. Then, Mayor Bland, then two votes for Juliet. There was a mumble throughout the Town Hall. The VFW section was noticeably silenced.
At the 51:49 mark, Iris noted half the ballots had been counted. She quickly looked over her note pad as Vera announced a five-minute recess before the tally would continue.
Iris had been very careful as she jotted down the vote count. After 467 votes, the tally looked like this:
Dick Bland: 137
Raymond Cooper: 234
Juliet Stoughton: 91
Mickey Mouse: 2
Ima Goose: 3
Outside, Farley Puckett turned to his wife and said, "How can there be 90 people stupid enough to vote for that woman?"
From the look on his wife’s face, he realized Earl wasn’t the only man sleeping alone in the Valley tonight.