Originally created 11/06/02

Man retires with levers



ATHENS, Ga. - The moment an Athens-Clarke County voter stepped past the curtain of a lever voting machine was the culmination of hours of painstaking preparation.

At the center of the hours of programming for the county's 145 machines over the past 25 years were Bob and Helen Martin.

But the old lever machines will find new homes in other states; Athens-Clarke County traded the intricate mechanical lever machines for smaller computerized voting machines for Tuesday's general election.

Mr. Martin, who sold the machines to Athens-Clarke County in 1977, retired after the Sept. 10 runoff, along with the machines he programmed and maintained for a quarter-century. His wife, Helen, a poll manager at the Chase Street precinct for more than 20 years, retired at the same time.

The county's change in technology marked the end of an era for the Martins, a time filled with good friends and the reward that came from years serving the community.

"The people who helped us at the polls have all been good friends," Mr. Martin said. "It was always a rewarding day to get people in and voted."

In addition to his duties in Athens-Clarke County, where he was often assisted by his wife, Mr. Martin was responsible for providing voting machine maintenance and some programming services to 68 other Georgia counties.

"I enjoyed it, and what I enjoyed was the people," he said. "I have a lot of friends all over the state of Georgia."

As a result, Mr. Martin is a legend in the world of Georgia elections.

"It's interesting to see (Bob Martin) at state-level election meetings," said Patty Curtis, the chairwoman of the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections. "The whole state is just crazy about him."

Ms. Curtis was serving on the Board of Elections when the "new" lever machines were purchased by the county in the late 1970s. Among the first who were trained to help program the lever machines were Ms. Curtis and former elections supervisor Dot Barrett. While the intricate programming process could take someone else as long as two hours, Mr. Martin could do it in just 30 minutes.

According to Ms. Barrett, elections in the past several years would not have been possible without the expertise of Bob and Helen Martin, who helped trouble-shoot problems with lever voting machines during nearly every election.

"They were the ones you didn't have to worry about," Ms. Barrett said. "You knew it was going to get done right."

Because of his loyalty to the lever machines, Mr. Martin said he remains skeptical about the new computerized system, although he looks forward to seeing how they worked in Tuesday's election.