Ballot Writing

There’s a recount going on in the Minnesota Senatorial race between Norman Coleman (R) and Alan Franken (D). The vote highlights the inadequacy of much of the US voting system – the variability of the voting methods used means that if this was a science experiment they’d have to give a margin of error. That’s fine in a poll, but not in the actual election, so the theoretical ‘best’ result would be a do-over (a race I suspect Coleman would win).

Anyway, both sides are challenging ballots because of assorted flaws. Perhaps the most impressive challenge is from the Coleman camp, who have challenged a ballot because it contained the text “Thank you for counting my vote!“. That might technically be grounds for rejecting it, but morally I’d say not, especially as I’ve written the same thing on my ballot before now (and having counted ballots as well, I wouldn’t have hesitated to let it through).

3 comments on “Ballot Writing

  1. So when you have super-close elections over there, you just solve it by a “do-over”? I think the very nature of any election where the difference in tally is in the two digits in ANY voting system would cause a lot of problems. And why do you think Coleman would win in a “do-ver”? Last I checked, he’s staring down the barrel of a federal indictment. Any “do-over” scenario would encompass the notion that Coleman might have to serve from prison, a prospect that would likely make it very hard for Minnesotans to vote for him as they tend to not prefer criminal candidates. I know, I know; sticklers, aren’t they?

  2. No, but we have three advantages here. First, all of the ballots are manual, so we don’t get the problems of machines (interestingly most if not all machines won’t give you the same count twice if fed the same ballots twice). Second, we have about one sixth the number of elected officials per head of population, which means our ballots are much simpler – I can’t remember ever voting on more than one position at a time, and I don’t think it ever happens – and that’s helped by the fact that most elections have 2-4 candidates only (that might be a bad thing for democracy, but it’s a good one for counting). Third, any questionable ballot is examined at the time of the count by a trained professional observed by members of the parties involved.

    All of that doesn’t remove the possibility that an odd ballot might be miscounted, but out of the 3 million (?) cast in the Senate race I’d consider the margin of error under the UK system to be orders of magnitude smaller than under the US system.

    As to the chances of a Coleman victory in a recount, it’s true that he’s facing possible prosecution, and that while he was before it’s looking at least somewhat more serious now. But in a do-over there wouldn’t be the same Obama wave to boost Democratic turnout, particularly as the Dems know that overall they’ve ‘won’. In contrast I think whatever motivated Republicans last time will be more persistent into a second election.

    In any case, my point in saying that was to show I didn’t want a recount just to help Frankin (because I think he’d lose), but because whoever now wins doesn’t have a genuine claim to legitimacy.

  3. Regarding manual ballots. Minnesota’s “machine” voting is an optical ballot. You feed the ballot into a machine and it plays back what you voted for you to check. The machine exists only to aid in counting, not like the (let’s face it Republican-backed) Diebold machines in Ohio where the machine is the only place where the count exists — very, very dodgy.

    The paper ballot remains the true record in any close race in the state’s optical ballot. By removing the machine assistance, you’d be guaranteeing every election would be as slow and costly as the recount.

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