Why Every Vote Should Not Be Counted


Look, this is not very hard. In Ohio, you have a certain Bush lead and certain number of provisional ballots. Once you determine how many of those p-ballots are, in fact, valid ballots per the laws of the state, you look at that number. If that number is smaller that the amount of the Bush lead, you do not have to count any of them.

If the number is, in fact, larger, then you start counting. But you would stop counting if and when you get to the point at which the number of remaining ballots falls below the amount of the Bush lead. When it becomes absolutely impossible for Kerry to overtake Bush, you stop counting and declare Bush the winner.

This is what happens routinely in recounts for dog catcher or city councilman around the country. The goal is to put the right person in office, not make some fetish out of counting things.

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  1. Well, no, because in Ohio if the difference is less than a quarter of a percent, then there is an automatic recount. You need to keep counting until the difference is greater than that.

    Note that, in 2000, 85% of Ohio’s provisional ballots went to Gore.

  2. Or you can keep a running tally as you validate each vote. That way you don’t have to go through them twice.

  3. The goal, at this point, is for thousands of lawyers to justify their existences – therefore the count must go on until the last dollar…uh…vote!!!

  4. Believe me, I’ve watched counts and recounts. Once it gets to the point where it is IMPOSSIBLE for the outcome to change, the election board supervisor says he or she is going home and the candidate on the short end, says, “well, fuck then” and throws in the towel.

  5. Now Jeff, that`s to simple.Common sence has no place in politics.

  6. Jeff,
    How quaint, but here in the big leagues, it’s the other way around. Making a fetish out of whatever sticks to the wall is the way the game is played. Putting the “right” person in office is like putting a unicorn in a cage. The notion that the electorate cast their ballots and that determines who wins, is just a fairy tail we tell to children.

  7. Out here in CA we count every provisional ballot. Candidates will concede defeat long before every provisional ballot is counted, but the election workers are not allowed to decide that they can stop counting ballots. The feeling is that election workers should not be allowed to develop any lazy habits that involve disregarding ballots. Seems like a good enough system to me: The candidates can be pragmatic and respond to the math, and the election workers have to keep working until the job is done. It might take weeks, but they have to examine every provisional ballot. As a practical matter it might seem over-the-top to count that very last ballot, but as a matter of keeping the election workers honest I think it’s sound.

  8. Hey! Thoreau’s back! How was the poll working? Any troubles or interesting stories?

  9. What are provisional ballots anyway?

  10. Ballots cast by people who — for one reason or another — are not on the voter rolls.

    The idea behind it is that if there’s a mistake, you cast your ballot anyways, and then it’s sorted out after the election whether you should have been able to vote. If you should have been allowed to vote, then your ballot is right there from Election day. If not, it’s tossed.

  11. When it becomes absolutely impossible for Kerry to overtake Bush, you stop counting and declare Bush the winner.

    No, you declare Bush the winner, but continue to count all the votes. A thrown-out vote is a thrown-out vote regardless of whether it “decides the election” or not. I would not appreciate to have my vote tossed in the garbage for any reason.

  12. Provisional ballots: If you show up to vote, and your name isn’t on the list, you fill out some information on an envelope and put your ballot in there. The people at the downtown office will verify your eligibility based on that information. If they verify that you are eligible to vote and that you didn’t vote anywhere else in the county your ballot is removed from the envelope and counted. You might point to privacy issues there, but the same issues apply with absentee ballots, so privacy issues are not unique to provisionals.

    As to the polls, here’s my take, since it intersects with the issue of provisional ballots:

    I worked in a crowded student neighborhood. People move all the time, and because of the high population density there are about 10 precincts crowded into a square mile. Move a few blocks and you’re in a new precinct. If you don’t register at your new address and you show up to vote you aren’t on the list.

    10% of our ballots were provisionals. Some of it was probably the fault of the people downtown. Some of it was probably the fault of voter registration drives that didn’t turn in the completed forms. (A lot of people swore up and down that they had filled out a form and handed it to somebody from a registration drive.) And some of it is the fault of idiots who don’t re-register.

    I’m actually sympathetic to the notion that it’s ridiculous to have to go through registration again every time you move a block away to a different apartment. I sympathize with the notion that you shouldn’t have to run back and forth around the neighborhood until you find a poll worker who has your name on his print-out. I have visions in my head of an electronic system that would let you go to any polling place in the county and after being found in a database get a ballot valid for your jurisdiction via a printer in the polling place.

    But as long as our system is based on showing up to an assigned place, failing to keep your registration current requires a provisional ballot. Provisionals delay results. Provisionals require more staff. Provisionals introduce uncertainty and opportunities for controversy. I don’t mind giving a provisional to somebody whose name is on the list due to a screw-up by the gov’t employees in the elections office. But I can’t stand the people who fail to at least do their part and re-register when they move. The system works best when people take responsibility (doesn’t it always?). Though I might yearn for a different system that doesn’t require a provisional ballot when you move down the block, as long as that is our system I think voters should do their part and re-register to avoid the delay and confusion of provisional ballots.

  13. I had to fill out a provisional here in California. I had changed my registration when I changed my address at the DMV back in late June. I never got one of those cards, but figured it was some sort of screw-up in the gov?t, big surprise. I filled out a ballot as well as some information regarding where I was previously registered. I?m not sure if they?ll check if I voted in San Fran, where I was previously registered, or just LA County, where I voted. There?s a number for me to call in 40 days to see if my voted was actually counted.

    I have a question. What if Kerry concedes and the provisionals end up showing a victory for him? Can he say that he takes it back and that he wins or is it over at that point? Would Bush fight it?

  14. Mo-

    My experience yesterday was that people who changed their registration at DMV got burned. Better to mail your form directly to the county elections office. Not that the elections office is a hotbed of efficiency, but they seem to function better than the DMV (then again, who doesn’t?).

  15. Don’t ballot access laws in many states require all ballots be counted in order to enforce them?

  16. “If that number is smaller that the amount of the Bush lead, you do not have to count any of them.”

    The ballot I cast had the Presidential election, Congressman, State Senate, State Rep, Governor’s Council, and Sherrif. I imagine it’s the same in Ohio, plus a few ballot initiatives. If they’re feeding the ballots through the machine anyone, why turn off the tabulation of the presidential vote?

    Plus, it’s bad form to stop counting votes. Wrong on principle, and too many “What ifs?”

  17. “Believe me, I’ve watched counts and recounts. Once it gets to the point where it is IMPOSSIBLE for the outcome to change, the election board supervisor says he or she is going home and the candidate on the short end, says…”

    “Stolen election, stolen election!” “Disenfranchisement!”

  18. I would prefer that they count every ballot. Who knows… there might be a ballot or two in there for third-party candidates. And, while another vote for Bush or Kerry isn’t going to change anything, every vote for third-party candidates is a precious thing. (Because, of course, it is so rare.)

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