Sunday, November 09, 2008

Night Of The Living Dims.

The Minnesota Senate race is headed for a recount. Senator Norm Coleman leads former comedian Al Franken by a narrow margin after the machine count. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is covering the story. (Here.)

Because all the ballots will now be counted by hand, metaphysics and mind-reading will guide the vote counters as they attempt to discern the mysterious "intent of the voter." For the vast majority of voters who follow the rules and cast legal votes, the intent will be clear. Those voters filled in the bubbles to cast their lawful vote.

For a small number of voters who didn't fill in the bubbles but made other marks, the Minnesota Secretary of State has created a graphic to show the kind of marks that now will count as votes. The graphic is reproduced by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. (Here.) It's worth looking at the examples to see the kind of non-votes that will be counted as votes because "the voter's intent is clear."

Six examples are shown and only two are clear examples of voter intent. In the first three examples the voter, rather than filling the bubble, circled the bubble, circled the candidate's name, or put a check mark in the margin next to the candidate's name. These marks are persuasive evidence of voter intent only if the voter did the same thing for every other candidate on the ballot. If the voter voted correctly in every other race, the marks are less likely to be votes and are more likely indications that the voter was unsure and put a place mark on the ballot as a reminder to make a decision after voting in every other race. The fact that the bubble wasn't filled in indicates that the voter chose not to vote in that race.

The fourth example is a check mark in the bubble. Again, if the voter filled every other bubble correctly, a check mark shouldn't count as a valid vote. It only indicates voter intent if the voter put a check mark in every other bubble.

The final two examples are the only ones persuasive of voter intent. In those examples a bubble next to one candidate is filled in, but another candidate has a bubble filled in then scratched out, or filled in and partially erased. That is persuasive evidence that the voter changed his or her mind. But what the evidence doesn't explain is why the voter didn't get a new ballot to correct the error.

If it were up to me, I wouldn't count improperly cast votes at all. The process of voting isn't hard. You fill in the little bubbles with the pen provided. If you don't fill in the bubbles but instead circle names or use check marks, or what have you, you're not voting, you're playing games, you're wasting your time, the state's time, and taxpayer money. And if you make a mistake, you ask the poll worker for a new ballot. It's not hard to do. We should expect more from voters.

In baseball, a balk is not a pitch. In politics, an improperly cast vote should not be a vote. Only properly cast votes demonstrate the voter's intent beyond doubt. Letting election officials count incorrectly prepared ballots as votes gives those officials the power to cast votes and to decide the victor in close races.


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