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Counting the Votes

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As with the – duh – 2000 election, the actual mechaincs of voting will be once again crucial to the outcome of the election, with literal and psychological implications for the nation and for the legitimacy of the next president.

For a little levity before the heavy stuff, check out Boom Chicago’s hilarious Voting Machine parody here (WM) (QuickTime here).

Mac Diva writes about concerns in Florida here.

The Note is again a must-read today:

    On Election Day, around 110 million people will vote in thousands of polling places, at tens of thousands of voting machines, attended by tens of thousands of poll workers — all of which will produce literally billions of separate transactions.

    There will be mistakes, errors, and maybe even purposeful wrongdoing — any and all of which might affect the outcome of the presidential race and the down ballot stuff.

    By our count, there are nearly a dozen significant lawsuits pending right now that could drastically effect the franchise in Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and other key states.

    ….Many states have totally revamped their election tabulation and ballot casting machines since the last presidential hoedown.

    States have reformulated their recount procedures; implemented federally mandated provisional ballot laws; spent millions to recruit more poll workers and train them better; and worked to clarify arcane and often conflicting state rules.

    Still — several states continue to use outdated punch card machines. The legal precedents from Bush v. Gore are unsettled and confusing. Literally millions more voters will cast absentee ballots this year compared to four years ago, potentially delaying the count.

    They are four crucial areas to watch:

    1. Equal protection. Most states have tried to adopt some semblance of equal protection in order to fend off Bush v. Gore challenges. If counties handle provisional ballots differently — or if they count absentees differently — or if they reject voters differently — or if optical scan counties again do a better job of reducing undervotes — will there be an actionable case against an important election jurisdiction on Nov. 2 or beyond?

    2. Voter intimidation. Yes, the GOP is still under enhanced scrutiny for decades-ago shenanigans around the country. And there remain mean people who do nasty things every election on both sides. Some top GOP officials wonder whether some “stupid” independent activists — that is their characterization , not ours — will make it hard for them on Election Day by doing “stupid” things unilaterally, like checking identifications at the door to the polls, printing flyers saying Election Day is on Nov. 3, or paying for last minute push polls that aim to confuse some voters.

    We know that GOP lawyers in their -pre-election briefings take pains to warn their soldiers away from doing anything like this. And we believe Ed Gillespie when he says he won’t stand for that kind of stuff this year. And Democrats will also go out of their way to sniff out intimidation, raising its profile and masterfully enlisting the media in their communications plans. But ignore any flippancy — voter intimidation is real and can have real effects. As can . . .

    3. Voter fraud, rule breaking, and human error. With so many new voter registration groups — the 527s and the (relatively under the radar) 501(c)3s, will fraud be enough to tip the balance on Election Day? What about with provisionals? With absentees? Challenges at polls? Confused poll workers? It all could happen, has happened, and will be monitored very closely by Republican attorneys.

    4. Electronic voting machines. Let’s stipulate that these things work very well and voters seem to like them but that the technology is not nearly as perfect as it needs to be for election administrators to be assured of an entirely failsafe (or reasonably failsafe) election with them.

    ….Suffice it to say, it is vitally important to the country that the final election results — particularly for the presidency — be seen as fair and legitimate by all Americans.

    So we’re seeking YOUR help — and by “you” we mean citizens, journalists, activists, party officials and consultants, election administrators, and interested observers.

    ABC News is kicking off our 2004 Watchdog project today, and The Note — and Noted Now — will be its canvass. Between now and Election Day, look for regular reports on all ABC News programs.

    If you want to help, or if you’re concerned, all it takes is an e-mail to The ABC News Political Unit:

    You might encounter problems or issues with the mechanics of casting and tabulating your ballot, from rules about absentee votes and voter IDs, to problems with electronic machines in your county, to poll workers who don’t know the law.

    ….To submit material to our casting and counting watchdog corps, just e-mail us —

    You can and should start writing us right now — and all the way through Election Day.

Vigilance is the key – make sure your vote counts.

Richard Hasen has an interesting and disturbing look at what COULD go wrong with the election:

    Nightmare Scenario No. 1: Litigation Following Voting Glitch
    The one lesson you would have thought everyone learned from Florida 2000 is that we need to use reliable equipment to cast ballots. After all, it was Florida’s antiquated punch-card voting system—along with legal wrangling over whether and how punch-card votes should be counted—that led to the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore ending the Florida recounts and handing that election to George W. Bush.

    After the election, the well-respected Caltech-MIT Voting Study found that 1.5 million votes were lost because of punch cards, and there were many other problems caused by both machinery failures and poor ballot design. Yet many jurisdictions dawdled in changing their technology, and some changed it only because of litigation. A great number of jurisdictions waited for congressional funding. Congress, enmeshed in partisan bickering, only finally passed the Help America Vote Act in late 2002, providing such funding. (Congress then failed to fully fund it—but that’s another sad story.)

    ….Nightmare Scenario No. 2: Litigation Over Whose Vote Counts
    The Help America Vote Act, which was supposed to make things better after Florida, may make things much worse in the short term. One HAVA provision requires states to allow voters who believe themselves eligible to vote, but whose names do not appear on the voter rolls, to cast a “provisional ballot,” with election officials later determining whether those ballots should be counted. But HAVA is unclear on whether a voter who casts a vote in the wrong precinct (but the right county) is entitled to have that vote counted.

    You would think that with two weeks to go before the election, this ambiguity would have been resolved. But litigation in at least four states on this issue is just getting under way. Courts have reached somewhat conflicting decisions on this issue in Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Missouri, and further appeals and decisions are coming. The issues may not be finally resolved in time for Election Day.

    So, imagine the vote in a battleground state hangs by a few thousand votes before the provisional ballots are examined (itself a time consuming process, by the way). Whether that state goes to Bush or Kerry could then turn on the legal question of HAVA interpretation—an issue that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

    ….Nightmare Scenario No. 3: Litigation Over Colorado’s Amendment 36
    On Nov. 2, Coloradans will consider Amendment 36—a voter initiative—that, if passed, will change the way that Colorado’s nine electoral votes are allocated from a winner-take-all to a proportional system. This initiative unambiguously states that it is intended to apply to this year’s presidential election. So, the winner in Colorado could end up with 4 or 5 votes rather than 9, and the election could then hang in the balance over a technical legal question: whether Amendment 36 can properly apply to this election.

    The major parties so far have stayed out of this particular dispute, but a businessman has just filed suit in federal court claiming that the retroactive nature of the amendment violates the constitutional right to due process (a somewhat dubious argument) and putting forth the more serious argument that Amendment 36 violates Article II of the Constitution, which vests the state legislature with the power to pick the rules for choosing constitutional electors.

    The Article II argument was one that appealed to the three most conservative justices on the Supreme Court deciding Bush v. Gore. They believed the Florida Supreme Court’s recount rules made new law (rather than interpreting old ones) that violated the Florida legislature’s power to set the rules for choosing electors. Last June, in a case emanating, ironically, from Colorado, Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas reaffirmed their position, asking for a hearing on the question of whether the Colorado Supreme Court usurped the Colorado Legislature’s power to set the rules for congressional redistricting. There are some old precedents on the meaning of “legislature” that may be relevant, but their application to the Colorado scenario is unsure. If the issue made it to the Supreme Court, the final call likely would come down to—surprise!—the votes of Justices Kennedy and O’Connor.

    ….Nightmare Scenario No. 4: Electoral College Woes in Congress
    With such a closely fought election, we could see an Electoral College tie. The Twelfth Amendment provides rules for breaking such a tie (the House votes, with each state getting one vote). There may also be disputes over the counting of Electoral College votes (for example, what if we have a “faithless elector” who is pledged to one candidate but wishes to vote for another candidate?). And there are also questions about whether the federal law governing Electoral College disputes—the Electoral Count Act—is clear enough to deal with any controversy and whether it is constitutional in the first place.

    One might think Electoral College issues are for Congress, and perhaps the states, to resolve, and not the courts. But one unambiguous lesson following Bush v. Gore is that the Supreme Court will not be afraid to step in, if a court majority perceives a need to avert a national “crisis.”

    Nightmare Scenario No. 5: Terrorist Attack That Disrupts Voting
    This is the true nightmare scenario. In a forthcoming article in the Election Law Journal, John Fortier and Norman Ornstein consider the myriad ways terrorists could disrupt our elections. Consider just one of them—an attack in a major city in a battleground state, making it physically impossible for voters to get to the polls in part of the city, although voting can take place in the rest of the state and country.

    Should the election be postponed, as New York’s primary was postponed on Sept. 11, 2001? Most of the battleground states do not have a statute in place to deal with an Election Day delay, and Congress has done nothing to put any rules in place to deal with such a catastrophe either, assuming (a big assumption) that Congress has the power to do so. [Slate]

All of these issues loom ever larger the closer the election, and this one appears likely to be very close.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Claire Robinson

    Eric…an informative, important, and well written article. I think that much is laid at the feet of the GOP when some of it in the past has been done by others to cast the shadow.

    The GOP was back in the 70’s under that stellar leader, guilty of wrongdoing…as was the DNC during the JFK election…(remember Chicago)…

    Voting fraud, voting nefariousness (is that a word?) serves no one. It divides our country, it causes distrust, devisiveness between the parties…not to mention it is illegal.

    I must say, and will restate on Mac’s piece, that the Florida election official is right about one thing. The law is the law. Improperly filled out ballots, registrations, etc, cannot be counted. Hell, MINE was sent back in Dallas because I didn’t sign my name to the outer envelope. Those laws are in place to protect elections, not to interfere with them.

    Make sure you vote, and make sure your vote counts…it is the only way to have the democratic republic we can be proud of. Good piece, and you give great links….


  • Eric Olsen

    thanks so much Claire, but this one was pretty much ALL links

  • Hal Pawluk

    The GOP “shenanigans” aren’t decades-old, and aren’t shenanigans.

    They’re from the last election and are fascist-like tactics of violence.

    About 75 Republicans were bussed in and violently invaded Miami-Dade County offices, scaring officials into stopping the recount.

    Here’s a link to an ABC story on the Free Republic site: GOP’s “Unplanned” Protests

    The shouting demonstrators accused Democratic election officials of taking the count behind closed doors and apparently contributed to one election supervisor’s vote to end the hand recount.

    “If what I’d envisioned worked out and there were no objections, we’d be up there now counting,” election supervisor David Leahy said.

    But that demonstration, ABCNEWS has learned, was neither spontaneous, nor local. It was an organized Republican Party protest, run by 75 party supporters out of a motor home headquarters in Miami. Today, six Democratic congressmen suggested the Bush campaign was behind the allegedly orchestrated protest and sent a letter to the Justice Department urging it “to investigate what may be an egregious effort to undermine” the right of voters in Miami-Dade County.

    “According to many published reports, unruly and violent protestors managed to create a climate of fear and intimidation, with the intent of preventing the canvassing board from completing its difficult task,” the letter said. “The actions … included punching and kicking individuals, pounding on doors, screaming threats and other intimidating acts.”

    The letter was signed by Reps. Peter Deutsch and Carrie Meek, both of Florida, Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson, both of Texas, William Jefferson of Louisiana and Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C.

    And for the righties, note that this is from the Freeper site, so stand at ease and drop those billy clubs.

  • andy marsh

    and why exactly were they behind closed doors??? counting votes must be a personal thing…like changing your underwear!!!

  • Hal Pawluk

    Because they didn’t want Republican goons trying to influence them?

    Get real.

  • andy marsh

    yeah…ok…’s your lie…tell it any way you want.

  • Hal Pawluk

    Your comment is the lie, Andy. The story is true and you can see it on the right-wing Free Republic site.

    Your comment about the closed doors as if it were an issue is kind of silly, too.

    Once the Republican goons opened the doors, the doors were no longer an issue.

    So how do you justify the Republican violence that followed?

  • andy marsh

    I don’t know…I guess if I were a republican in florida at that time and I thought that a bunch of democrats were trying to steal an election I might very well get a little “upset”. and they were trying to steal it. AS is evidenced by the fact that no matter how many times they were recounted after all the craziness was over, Bush still won Florida.

    I do remember seeing the way they were inspecting those punch cards and I thought it was ridiculous! You had people looking at punch cards with magnifying glasses trying to discern a voters intent! How could they discern whether a dimple was the result of someone at first pushing the pen slightly into a wrong whole, then realizing it was the wrong whole and pulling it out before they punched through…and where did the democrats come up with these people with all this psychic ability??? And why is it only an ability held by democrats!

    I mean, let’s get real here…how hard is it to follow directions. If the directions say to punch through the card until the chad is removed…then I would say, if it aint removed it aint a vote!!!

    I am not a republican Hal…I did vote for Bush in 2000 and I’ll likely vote for him again. But let’s get something straight. Voting IS NOT rocket science. So don’t confuse stupidity with disenfranchisement! And I’m sorry, if you can’t read, ENGLISH, or maybe braille, then you probably have no business voting anyway. Last time I checked, America was not multi-lingual. at least not this part of north america

  • Hal Pawluk

    Once again, I have to ask: what on earth are you frothing about?

  • andy marsh

    like I said…if you can’t read…ENGLISH…you shouldn’t vote

  • Hal Pawluk

    Ah, well, I guess that’s just too clever for me, Andy.

    It’s been nice talking to you.

  • Roscoe

    If Ron had left out the names of the
    signers of that letter he might have held
    onto a shred of credibility. Those are
    six of the more loony lefties who are
    as yet uncommited. And actually quoting
    an ABC story? ABC???

  • Hal Pawluk

    Roscoe, name-calling is not a defense.

    If you have substantive evidence to refute the story, please provide it.

    Otherwise, it looks like 75 Freepers elected the current president.

    By using fascist tactics.

  • Roscoe

    I impugned your credibility. Where is the
    name there?
    My info came from the LA Times (LA Times
    ???) (before it was bought by the Chicago
    Tribune) and is inconvenienty stored.
    I am old enough to remember fascism. Are
    you? You use it in a way that betrays
    ignorance of its literal meaning. Fasc-
    ists and communists are identical twins
    wearing different hats. Failure to under-
    stand this may be the source of your
    confusion. You may still believe that
    Bush stole the Florida vote? That idea
    was also blown apart by the LA Times.

  • andy marsh

    Roscoe – I don’t think you’re allowed to use a liberal source to dispute a liberal claim!

    How dare you sight the LA times!!!

  • Hal Pawluk

    Clearly, Roscoe, you wouldn’t recognize fascism even if it hit you on the head.

    The L.A. Times didn’t blow squat apart. There was hardly any media mention of the violence by the Republicans in Miami-Dade, but it happened and it stopped the recount.

    Here’s something from the NY Times 11/23/01:

    … demonstrations turned violent on Wednesday after the canvassers had decided to close the recount to the public. Joe Geller, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, was escorted to safety by the police after a crowd chased him down and accused him of stealing a ballot. Upstairs in the Clark center, several people were trampled, punched or kicked when protesters tried to rush the doors outside the office of the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections. Sheriff’s deputies restored order.

    Only that morning, the board, facing a tight deadline mandated the night before by the State Supreme Court, had concluded that it did not have time for a hand count of all 654,000 ballots cast by the county’s voters. So the canvassers voted to proceed only with a manual count of 10,750 ballots that machines had not counted.

    The ABC story tells us where the violence came from: right-wingers who were bussed in.

    It does have the earmarks of the early days of Nazism and Mussolini’s fascism.

    Someone once said: “The price of freedom is vigilance,” so pay attention.

    And while my age has nothing to do with anything, I’m older than dirt so you’re wrong in whatever you were thinking about that, too.

    And andy, it’s “cite.”

  • andy marsh

    Thanks for the english lesson Hal, I stand corrected once again…you learn something new every day…

    You say the price of freedom is vigilance, maybe that’s why those “observers” got so pissed, when they closed the doors to the public, it did not allow them to be vigilant. just a thought!

  • Hal Pawluk

    They weren’t observers, they were imported agitators.

    They used violence.

    And they stopped the recount of over 10,000 ballots (Bush won by how many?)

    Violence in the political process was used to change the course of this country.

    I’m waiting for November 3rd this year …

  • andy marsh

    Hal…no matter how many times you recount them…and how many liberal media orgs went down ther eand did it???

    Bush still won…I think we’ve beat that dead horse for all it’s worth!!!

    observers…agitators…you say potato…I say potatoe!!! or is it the other way around…

  • Hal Pawluk

    No, it’s not a matter of semantics – it’s a matter of fact.

    “Observers” observe and do not engage in violence to stop the political process.

    It’s time to get back to the American way, andy, and call fascist tactics what they are rather than blindly saying “They’re my guys, so whatever they do is right” becasue the end justifies the means.

    That’s not just un-American, it’s anti-American.

    Just think about it, okay?

  • andy marsh

    I will…think about it that is…I still see a problem with the observers being shut out.

    I know this Hal, there were a lot of people pissed off on both sides when this happened 3 1/2 years ago. I believe that things were handled wrong by both sides.

    I also believe that corrections are being made to try to stop this stuff from happening again. New voting machines and that…

    And lastly, I believe, that it’s the system we have, it ain’t perfect…but you work with what you have…and fix the mistakes when you find them.

  • Hal Pawluk

    In that instance, the “observers” weren’t official observers as such, just 75 thugs brought in from as far away as New York. The door was shut because they were so disruptive. But on to other things.

    You seem to think that the system will correct itself, but it won’t.

    The more the fringe elements can get away with, the more they will do and it will simply get worse and worse as it has historically in other countries.

    The voting machines are not a solution but an additional problem.

    They are easily hacked and reputable computer scientists with no political ax to grind have been saying so for years. I posted links to a number of sources you might find interesting in my Why Your Vote May Not Count, Particularly In Ohio. (Link open in new window)

    The Help America Vote Act was pushed through in much the same way the Patriot Act was, in the heat of the moment after a major event.

    Republicans have been trying since at least 1979 to get the ID requirements because they know that few poor, minority and new voters have adequate ID. The 2000 election gave them their chance and they leaped on it.

    Additionally, they are using other illegal tactics to keep voters they think will vote against them away from the polls. It’s all over the Web, from impartial sources – you can’t miss it.

    I hate it.

  • RedTard

    Mexico, our poor southern neighbor, has picture ID and finger print requirements for voting. Why can’t we come up with such a secure system?

    The Democrat’s block it.

    This is because they are the ones committing most of the voter fraud.

    Arguing with someone like Hal over this is a waste of time. He could care less what the facts are.

    It doesn’t matter that every independent organization that has recounted the 2000 Florida votes agree that Bush was the winner.

    It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of the voter fraud cases that have been uncovered were perpetrated by Democrats.

    People like Hal will continue to use scare tactics and lies to advance their idealogy with little regard for objective reality.

  • Hal Pawluk

    Right, Mexico is great so voter fraud has never been a problem there.

    That has nothing to do with why the Republicans want ID, which is to prevent as many Democratic voters from voting as possible (check with the RNC).

    I can just as easily claim it’s the Republicans committing most of the voter fraud, and they’re wearing Mickey Mouse ears while they’re doing it – that’s as valid as your claims, ‘Tard.

  • RedTard

    You can just as easily claim that and you would be wrong as usual.

    The reason the RNC wants ID is to prevent fraud.

  • andy marsh

    I have a problem with the fact that you think that showing ID before you’re allowed to vote is a bad thing!!!

    How does a polling official identify you as you without proper ID???

    If I was a polling official, am I supposed to just take your word for it that you’re who you say you are and that you have NOT voted somewhere else already?

    I don’t see this as a minority issue…I see this ID issue as a voter fraud issue!!! Adequate ID…an up to date drivers license? Military ID? Plain old ID card, issued by any DMV? I’d be happy with a library card!!!

    Just don’t expect me to take your word for it…not that I wouldn’t trust you Hal…but anyone elses word for it that they are who they say they are!!!

    Who in this day and age does not have an ID like that?

  • RedTard


    They can’t identify you without ID. That’s the whole point. The Democratic party know that it needs the illegal votes, especially this year, if it is going to win.

  • andy marsh

    That’s pretty much the way I’m figuring it to Red…but hey…that’s just my opinion…

  • Hal Pawluk

    Who doesn’t have “adequate” IDs? Poor people, college students, minorities, new voters … all groups which tend to vote for Democrats.

    Further, various jurisdictions have used a variety of tactics to scare away those groups – a letter sent to poor minorities saying the police would escort them to the polls, lists of many IDs required rather than only one as specified in HAVA, and more …

    In principle you’re right, but the reality is different.

  • andy marsh

    why wouldn’t any 18 year old have a drivers license…or a college ID?

    And you have no problem with somebody just walking up to a polling site and saying “I’m Joe Shmo and I’m here to vote and you just have to believe that I’m Joe Shmo, because I said I’m Joe Shmo”???

    And why would a college student be voting in that particular state if they’re not a resident of that state??? Shouldn’t they be absentee voting from their home of record???

    I’ve said this before, there are rules that are required to be followed in anything in life. If you don’t want to follow the rules, then I guess you should expect some difficulty!

  • bhw

    I have yet to be asked for an ID at the voting booth. For a federal election, we should not have different standards for voter eligibility on a state-by-state basis.

  • Distorted Angel

    Andy, college students can either vote where they go to school or in their home state.

    In my town, they do require ID to vote. I agree that there ought to be consistency, bhw.

  • andy marsh

    When I was active duty, I could only vote in my home state…why do college students get preferential treatement?

    I could claim residency where I was stationed, but then I had to give up my home state…

    And in AZ, where I lived in the last presidential election, required ID.

    I really don’t trust not needing an ID…that’s vote early, vote often kinda stuff!!!

  • Distorted Angel

    Um, if you could vote where you were stationed but not in your home state, or if you could vote in your home state by absentee ballot, then the situations are the same. They don’t get preferential treatment, Andy. They get one vote, either in the place where they’re living while they’re in school, or in their home state.

  • andy marsh

    no….I had to vote absentee, you shouldn’t be able to come into a town, temporarily, and change the complection of their town councils and sheriffs and the like.

    You should only be allowed to vote locally, the place that you call home…the state where pay taxes.

    And since, when you vote in a presidential election, you also vote in state and local elections, you should only be allowed to vote absentee.

  • Distorted Angel

    I could claim residency where I was stationed, but then I had to give up my home state…

    Perhaps I misunderstood your statement. I was under the impression that you had the option of declaring residency where you were stationed OR voting in your home state by absentee ballot.

    College students spend approximately eight months out of the year in the place where they attend school. They have the choice of either registering to vote in the state in which they attend school OR voting in their home state by absentee ballot. I’m still not sure what about that sounds like preferential treatment to you.

    no….I had to vote absentee, you shouldn’t be able to come into a town, temporarily, and change the complection of their town councils and sheriffs and the like.

    Why not? Like I said, most students spend the majority of four years at school. My son is in Boston right now. There’s a good likelihood that he might decide to stay on after graduation. What about people who relocate frequently because of their jobs? Should they not vote in their local elections because they might only be in town for a year?

  • andy marsh

    Not if they have no intention of staying there…