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Now Every Vote Counts

by Amy Zidell

11.11.00

It's about time the, "Every vote counts," mantra can actually be said with conviction. I was told some presidential elections past by the Registrar of Recorders (the guy in charge of ballots and voting) in my particular county that statistically, every vote didn't count. I had the conversation because I had noticed some irregularities in the official voter pamphlets one year. The cover and the insides did not match in some cases so the order the candidates appeared in varied. Having multiple voters in one household, I had an easy comparison staring right at me. This could have easily resulted in prepared voters voting based on their incorrect pamphlets and therefore not voting for their candidate. This could also have had a significant effect on absentee voter results.

This was several years ago but if I remember correctly, the potential effect was beneficial for an obscure third party candidate and detrimental to G.W's pappy. I say pappy as it reminds me of an old Bob's Big Boy commercial that very likely was running around this time or perhaps earlier about, "Pappy Parker's Fa-ried Chicken!" I just like saying that. It's fairly fun to write too.

I brought my discovery to the news director at the radio station I was interning at and was told to find out what I could. Luckily, my sleuthing was helped along by geography the Registrar of Recorders lived within a few blocks of me. I went to his house and showed him the mis-matched official voter pamphlets. I was quite certain I was about to discover a deep layer conspiracy, federal crimes and more. What I discovered was a printing error. Nothing scandalous, nothing sinister. Yes, that was all well and fine but this could effect certain people's votes. Maybe this same thing happened in other areas. This was significant because, and I proudly stated, "Every vote counts."

This was when my idealistic democracy view cracked slightly. I was told, in essence, "Actually every vote doesn't count."

I was stunned, "What do you mean?'

"Statistically it doesn't make a difference."

While I understood what they were saying and didn't doubt the truthfulness of the statement or explanation, I stubbornly held fast to the belief that every vote counted. I very much wanted my vote to count. To this day I hold strongly to this belief. I take my right to vote very seriously. Since my 18th year, I've perhaps missed one local issue election. What was very exciting this particular mis-matched booklet election year was that the Registrar invited a friend and me to observe vote counting at the downtown facilities. Normally, the behind the scenes access is reserved for dignitaries, elected and otherwise. We saw the intense security measures and helicopters landing with specially sealed ballot boxes, which were unloaded and escorted to a massive warehouse with a dizzying amount of machinery, equipment and people all focused on the singular task of counting ballots. While this might not sound all that exciting to many, it was truly awesome and fascinating to me. After this eye-popping tour, we got to hang out in a private secured area and enjoyed light refreshments while watching televised returns. Every fifteen minutes or so, updated results in the form of stapled paper packets landed on the table in front of us. Rabidly, we skimmed through the pages to see the evolving results.

This, if you will, back-stage experience of election night ground zero, was a thrilling time and event for me. In context of the current undetermined election results we're facing now, I feel mild vindication. See, every vote does count, at least in certain places. Still only something like half the population that is eligible to vote is registered to vote, and only a percentage of registered voters vote. In my opinion, if you don't vote you are not entitled to complain about elected officials. If I vote I can say, "Hey don't look at me, I didn't vote for them," amongst other snappy remarks.

One issue that has come to light is the matter of ballots where more than one vote was made for President. Let me begin by saying that there is no place for surly poll booth workers. I know that ballots and methods are slightly different in different areas. Where I vote, as long as I can remember, the ballot consists of a strip of cardstock with a series of numbers and matching little perforated rectangles. You take your ballot, slide it in a voting interface device that holds the ballot in the correct position with matching nubs on the interface and holes in the top portion of the ballot. Then there's a little puncher thingy, usually attached to a short metal chain. The voter device has an attached booklet, which features the different offices and measures and their voting choices. It should match the official voter pamphlet in content. You flip through the attached voting booklet and push the little puncher thingy through the little perforated rectangles. When I've completed my ballot I pull my ballot out of the device and make sure that all my punches are clean and no straggling tabs are left hanging on. Then I flip the voting book back to the beginning and match up the holes on my ballot with the numbers corresponding to my voter choices. I make sure that if I voted for candidate A and candidate A translates to the number 10 that the rectangle for number 10 is cleanly punched out. Sometimes I check the ballot more than once. That's a mild compulsive tendency and this isn't really the place to discuss that right now. Then I place my ballot in the little cover it comes in and I hand it to the election worker. They tear off the top removable ballot section and hand me a, "I voted," sticker and I'm on my way, proud I've done my civic duty. If you make a mistake voting, the mistake ballot is destroyed and a new ballot is given. I believe you're allowed something like three times for this. If you can't get it right in three tries you should just go home.

So apparently there's a batch of ballots that didn't count because they were punched too many times or uncleanly punched out tabs may have closed up in counting machines. If you can't manage to punch a hole with a puncher through a perforated tab, I really wonder if you ought to be out in public, let alone allowed to vote. It's really not all that difficult. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to test people's tab punching ability and for them to pass with reasonable proficiency before their voting registration is completed. There are traffic schools, perhaps there should be voting schools where attendees could learn the best techniques for punching singular, clean holes in the right place. I sympathize if a ballot is confusing; perhaps it would be helpful if the giant arrows pointing to the correct punch location flashed in neon colors.

If the ballots themselves aren't confusing there's the matter of misleading ballot measures. It should be illegal naming or describing a ballot measure using the word school in it, for example, when it's really an issue of who decides on property tax increases. Finding out the truth about some measures can be very difficult, that's simply not right. It should be clear what you are voting for and it should be clear how to vote the way you want to.

Even more frustration perhaps is the recent trend of initiative opponents filing injunctions and using various tactics, abusing the judicial system to halt the implementation of measures passing even with huge margins. How does your one vote count there? You voted. The measure passed, and someone else steps in and take yours and countless others' votes away. Unconstitutional measures shouldn't be allowed on the ballot in the first place.

There are even questions about the Electoral College. The Electoral College is the only way that all states are represented in federal elections. If the Presidental election were decided on just the popular vote, candidates would spend their time, effort and interests in California, New York and a few other populous states. Last I checked, this was the UNITED States of America, where States rights are important though perhaps important in different ways than they were some 200 years ago. I believe the name of the game is still representation.

While I would certainly like the candidate I voted for be the President, it's important that we know who the President's going to be. I find it unsettling not knowing. Alas there may be a silver lining to this electoral cloud; some good things may come from the chaos of this election. It may encourage more people to vote. It may encourage more care and attention to detail be paid to election materials. The concept of every vote counting will mean something real to people. Hopefully, it will have a tremendous chilling effect on the news media in relation to voting results predictions. Maybe they can start doing this with sporting events instead. Then you wouldn't have to sit through 4 hours of an hour long football game. It might be enjoyable to have John Madden calling election returns and diagramming over a map of the United States. He might have featured close ups of individual counties, and highlights of local election officials and their previous track records. It could work.

No question this whole democratic system isn't perfect. You can't improve on Churchill's words from November 1947, "Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

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