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Almost Every Vote Counts:

Campaign Chronicles One of Many - Short Story Commentary

by Amy Zidell
11.10.20 (first draft 11/04/20)

• Prologue

Including this prologue, this piece is just about 3,000 words. A little long, but this is more a short story commentary. In any case, that number is probably much less that mystery ballots that will show up somewhere tonight. First, some brief section summaries.

In the late 1980s, mismatched sample ballots that could result in mis-voting was brought to attention of election authorities. They concluded it was a printing error and that Every Vote doesn't really count, because elections aren't that close. That was then.

Into the next century, during a state race election recount, county registrar workers couldn't locate at least one requested precinct, no answer about what happens to absentee ballots returned undelivered by post office, and they couldn't add better than some people counting votes to this day with more votes than voters.

Summary, a lot doesn't add up in 2020.

• Almost Every Vote Counts: Eh Printing Error

Despite there seeming to be a significant lack of United States civics education in K-12 these days, the basic concept of Every Vote Counts is wide spread systematic understanding. Certainly, Every Vote means from registered voters, voting according to rules, within the legal time frame - that Every Vote counts. But what does that mean in reality?

Some decades ago, where I resided, different members of the household were registered for different political parties. On the dining room table the different sample ballots for the primary were spread out. (This was in a state when primary rules were voters could only vote for same registered party candidates. These rules have since changed and they vary state by state. Not all primaries are restricted to party specific. State legislatures and agreements between the official parties, that are not just two, determine these, in the weeds details. Secretaries of State and Country Registrars also have influence on how determined rules are applied and carried out.) Back to some decades ago, I observed that there was a number, a code, on the outside of the official sample ballot pamphlet and a corresponding number code on the pages inside the cover. However, one ballot didn't match up. The outer code didn't match the inside code and comparing, side by side, two sample ballots for the same party, same district, the inside pages had candidates in different order. I recall specifically that Presidential candidate George H. Bush (the 1st Bush) placement order varied. This struck me as odd. I thought if someone goes to the polls and they are basing their vote off their sample ballot, then their vote would be incorrect and, in this case, would have detoured votes away from Bush.

Different precincts, districts, arrange candidate order differently to avoid consistent order placement favoring or undermining votes. More people are likely to vote for the top listed options, versus bottom. I don't recall verifying, however, presumptively the identifying number on the ballot for that specific candidate is the same across state, or county. Fairly certain that back when we had punch through Chad type ballots, the candidates code number per race are not numbered consecutive without break. So instead of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 for example, each candidate would be assigned a number say 34, 45, 52, 63. So that gives the ballot and different voter template the means to juggle around the order candidates appear on the ballot while keeping each candidate's identification ballot number. (Where was your presidential candidate listed on the ballot when you voted this year? Is anyone looking into one candidate always on top, or always on bottom?) Incidentally, I noticed Trump/Pence was on the very bottom of the ballot where I voted in 2020 and Biden/Harris was, if not at top, very high up. These ballots seemed absurdly long in length. Is this reason of concern or alarm that Every Vote Counts could be at risk?

Back to some decades ago, I brought the evidence (the differing sample ballots) and presented the issue to the news director at a local radio station. He told me, "Look into it."

I had a mission. I was discussing my mission with a friend who shared interests in political things. Just so happened they knew people who were neighbors of the county Registrar of Voters / County Clerk, an important government position either appointed or elected, depending on State and County. The name of this position varies across States and counties: Elections Department, County Election Office, Registrar of Voters. Whatever, depending on county, the office Registrar of Voters / County Clerk handles conducting, counting, managing elections and, varied by area, other important matters from business licenses, marriage license, and death certificates. So my friend and I, with inconsistent sample ballots, went to the registrar's home and knocked on their door. They answered the door and I introduced myself presenting the matter I was investigating. I showed the evidence of the mismatched sample ballots and expressed my concern of Every Vote Counts not counting.

I remember the County Registrar, who since retired, looking carefully at one sample ballot then the other. Seeing the mismatching numbers. And with the swiftness and confidence of a very nice, very good dermatologist studying a freckle you have a question about and then announcing, "It's fine." The registrar stated, "It's a printing error."

"A printing error?" I remarked.

(Apparently printing errors are neither unusual nor novel this year 2020, though perhaps we could write one about it all.)

Back in the past, I persisted, "But if someone goes to vote, using the wrong one as a voter guide, they would end up voting for the wrong person and their vote would be wrong and not count."

"Every very doesn't count," the registrar said.

I was stunned. "But Every Vote Counts, that's what we're told. Every Vote Counts!"

The registrar explained, "It really doesn't."

I was befuddled, how could this be so?

The registrar explained more, "See, at a point, even if every vote left to count would go to a single certain candidate, it would not change the results. So it doesn't matter statistically. Races are not that close."

At least that was the situation back then for that race in that county in that state.

As a result of my investigation, my friend and I received VIP passes to the election night at the County headquarters. It was an amazing experience. We were given real behind the scenes view. We watched as County Sherriff's helicopter arrived on landing pad escorting and protecting bags of ballots secured with tamper resistant, tamper evident seal locks. We had a VIP tour of the massive facility that processed the, at the time, punch ballot cards, Chad type ballots. We saw all the different massive industrial machines that sort and count the ballots. We were escorted past, noisy, crowded general public election night viewing banquet halls to a private room, one of dozens down a hallway. Every few minutes, someone would deliver fresh updated election count results in progress on thick-stapled stacks of paper, landscape orientation. Lots of numbers and LOTS of official political parties some of which were concerning to see, not just listed, but garnering votes. Unsettling standouts included Nazi Party, Communist Party, and many many more.

After looking into it, there was maybe no news story, but a story that repeats to this current decade. In 2020, numerous incidents of 'printing errors' were subject of news reports. A quick glimpse of some. In New Jersey, envelopes didn't seal and voters were instructed not to lick them, common sense in a pandemic. In New York City, the wrong envelopes accompanied mass mail-in ballots. In California, mailed ballots were missing President Trump and Vice President Pence section in some precincts. Just printing errors? The special security bags with special seal locks, transported under fully funded armed Sheriff security used to carry ballots from traditional in-person polling places, are un-utilized with mailed-in ballots. One example of how unsolicited mass mailed-out ballots lack security, and are open to interference. Maybe there is a story there, even something to make a federal case out of.

• Almost Every Vote Counts: Even When UnRecounted

About three decades later, there was a very close election race for state representative. Close enough that it was recount eligible. I remembered the interesting visit years before; I suppose I thought revisiting the County Recorders office, as part of a campaign's recount observer team, would be fun. Not every thought counts. It was a partial recount. In a day, they were maybe able to 'recount' a few precincts. Out of many dozens. My recollections are relatively accurate but there may be some memory errors, less significant than printing errors, but the gist of the process should be clear.

This recount day was LONG. It did not involve Willy Wonka spirited proud tour of the facilities. The atmosphere was hostile. A large room with four portable banquet tables positioned in a rectangle in the middle of the room was where ballots would be exposed and examined. If I recall, a small row of chairs near the entrance, with cabinets around the room's perimeter. The campaign selected a couple dozen precincts to examine. Selected due to what, looking at stats, appeared unusual. Seated on the rectangle of folding banquet tables were four county recorder office employees. One employee per table. Two on one side, facing two on the other side. Behind each employee were two recount observers, one representing each campaign.

These ballots were post Chad. These had substituted Chads for ink markings, generated by a small stylus stamp that you press down on the ballot in the ballot holder, marking through a hole on the page voting 'machine' - a fixed booklet of heavy shiny card pages. Ballots were scan-tron style cards. There was a wait. A county worker was getting the ballot cards for the first requested precinct. After awhile, an employee, who happens to be (like all the other employees of the county office) a union member of union that was a major donor for the opponent, and for the party of the opponent, and for PACS supporting the opponent and the party of the opponent, pushed a metal cart into the room with a box with the marked ballots of a precinct.

The ballots' precinct was announced. The number of ballots was declared. The stack of ballot cards was placed on one end of the banquet table rectangle. That county employee counted and confirmed the number of how many ballots matched the number of ballots for the precinct being recounted. Then that employee handed the stack of ballots to the county employee across from them. The second banquet table employee looks at the ballot and announces the number relevant to the race subject to recount. I forget the numbers. We could go with 20, for our side, and 15 for the competition. One by one a ballot card was handed to the next county employee at the recount banquet table rectangle. They held up the ballot so observers could view the ballot and view that the ballot had marks on it. This county employee then called out loud the ballot number marked relevant to this particular race and the employee across from them kept a tally on a piece of paper. These are tally marks all should be familiar with - four short vertical lines and a fifth mark, if it gets to that, in a diagonal line going over the four vertical marks. Such tally is kept for each candidate. The technology involved paper, pencils, and pens.

The recount revealed an equal number of corrections. Like a captivating competitive sport event first, our team down was one, then the other team was down one. Then we were up one; then the other team was up one. No change in count. A lot of no pomp and no circumstance, as all the recount does is basically verify if the machines registered the marked ballots accurately. There were some ballots where someone voted for both and those ballots were invalidated. A ballot or two had marks that were mismarked and not valid. I don't recall fish eye over magnifying glass studying if a mark was in the bubble or not, though I do believe closely observing bubble marking occurred a couple times.

Additionally, there was drama, tension. Observers from one side physically very close to the observers from the other side. The opponent observer I was next to was much taller than me, and they attempted to block my view. I positioned myself for best visibility, within the floor space we were allotted behind one of the county employees at the banquet rectangle. At one point our feet were competing for floor space. Literally. Whether we were told or had self-negotiated marked out a virtual line, my foot was at the border and I didn't move. I didn't expect a near contact sport, and wasn't going to tolerate opponent team trying to push us around.

This tedious process repeated. One precinct recount was completed, then it was time for another and another. Then there was a really long wait and the worker with the magic cart that would disappear into the mass facility without any supervision returned and stated, "We can't find that precinct. What's the next precinct on your list?"

"You can't find the precinct?" we pondered, out loud.

Let that register.

After a certain amount of time of this activity, there was a break and teams shuffled around. My next visit was a room, with a more permanent table, where absentee ballots were the topic. Absentee ballots were presented and the other side was poised to reject everyone! Seriously. Or so it felt. It was explained that a machine, a scanning computer is able to scan every absentee ballot envelope and check the signature on file to see if it matches. I found that kind of unbelievable, and slightly creepy. I wonder out loud. "How does that account for someone who registered at 18 and is now 80? Or maybe has arthritis and their signature has changed over the years?

There was no answer.

The question came up from the county representative regarding issues when a spouse might sign on behalf of their spouse but signature wouldn't match.

Then the issue of absentee ballots that were returned by the U.S. Postal Service as undeliverable was mentioned. Some examples were shown. Could be that someone moved, or that the residence no longer exists, or who knows. Seems there's a good amount of these. Updating the voter rolls would undoubtedly save the county on postage.

Someone from our team, it might have been me asked, "Where do these go?"

"Huh?" was the response, actually more like crickets.

"What happens to the undeliverable absentee ballots?" (Thinking now, 'Like do they have adventure to island of misfit votes?')

The answer was something like, "We keep them."

We wanted to know, where do you keep them? Are they monitored? What happens to them? Are they shredded, or burned, or destroyed?

Seems they keep them. This was/is an important question to be properly answered as each of those returned envelopes had a blank ballot packed inside like a golden ticket. Back then, that meant there was a pile in an undisclosed, unmonitored location of ballots ripe for ballot box stuffing material - theoretically.

Imagine the 2020 election when everyone on still outdated voter rolls was mailed a ballot? One could imagine this special place overflowing more than Santa letter piles, yet instead of requests for toys and goodies, this pile is comprised of returned ballots ready to be repurposed, in a way, recycled. That might explain a lot. Climate change is responsible for voting irregularities - theoretically.

Alas the recount was educational, enlightening, and exhausting. Yet, it did not chance outcome. Something that was never explained, at all, was how did the County Registrar Recorder's office tabulate more votes than registered voters exist in the district?

You would think that simple addition would be a minimum job requirement for a Registrar Recorder. Funny how same question is being asked this year. Different decade, different county, different race, votes still don't add up.

• Almost Every Vote Counts: Version 2020

A lot does not add up in 2020. No matter your view, president Trump, sometimes, by the way he often jumps to the next paragraph before finishing a sentence, has effectively provided a civics 101 class for America. It is not accidental. Whether it's a statement he makes about saying he could tell all governors how to do something, which stirred up lots of dialogue about Governor responsibilities, State's rights, jurisdictions and such. Or, the issue of counting every legal ballot as opposed to counting every ballot, verified or not. It has caused topics that deep state establishment types (swamp dwellers) follow through rote memory, or, cable news commentators, who aren't legal scholars yet discuss in detail pretending as if they are, aspects of our country's government and political framework that many people had forgotten or never knew existed. Pertinent to this wordy piece is the issue of mass mail ballots, an item that got more attention than previously. The difference of a requested absentee ballot from an unsolicited ballot that ended up being mailed to a deceased person is not something to brush off or ignore. Ignoring induces ignorance. Numerous reports of ballot related printing errors incidents, some examples already detailed. How does that happen? How does a 'printing error' occur when it's ballots that are being printed? These are not brochures, or business cards. Anyway, how many times have you had something printed where you did not proof read the material? Maybe County Clerks need to find better printers or print-in house. Just be glad they are not printing money, that's what propositions on the ballot, printing error or not, attempt to do.


Election2020, recount, election integrity, printing error, electoral college, George H Bush, Registrar of Voters, mass mail in ballots, vote, canvassing, Chads, Bubble, Union workers, Sherriff Helicopter, absentee ballots, president, Trump, Pence, Biden, Harris COVID-19, COVID19, Corona Virus, Hospitalization, Global Pandemic

Free-lance writer, web consultant, and entrepreneur. Used to enjoy sushi and dark chocolate but not so much anymore. She gave up waiting for that new perfect pair of sunglasses to update her picture; so she dug up the old pair of sunglasses and snapped away for Then and Now.

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