A reader whose wife is an election judge in a Twin Cities suburb sent us this extremely interesting account of how ballots in Minnesota’s Senate race will be tabulated. The key point, which I hadn’t previously understood, is that all Senate ballots–not just the absentee ballots–will be hand counted rather than being run through machines. Moreover, election judges are being given directions on how to determine “voter intent.” Thus, the potential for a Florida-like fiasco exists. The key error lies, I think, in thinking that the purpose should be to determine “voter intent” and that a hand review can do this more accurately than a machine reading. In fact, not everything a person does with a ballot constitutes a vote. For some reason, approximately two to three percent of all voters in all elections do something screwy with their ballots rather than casting a proper vote. It is futile and unfair to try to scrutinize ballots that are not properly filled out to try to determine “voter intent.” As Justice O’Connor pointed out during the argument of Gore v. Bush, the only coherent standard for determining “voter intent” is the instructions given to the voter. If a voter, for example, writes “I’m for Fritz!” in the margin of the ballot and draws an arrow to the oval next to Mondale’s name, but does not fill in the oval, he may have indicated some kind of intent, but he has not voted. Likewise, if a voter writes “Mondale sucks!” on his ballot but fails to properly fill in one of the ovals, he may have clearly expressed an opinion, but he has not cast a ballot. Our reader has offered to send us a copy of the instructions being given to vote-tabulators on how to evaluate voter intent; perhaps it will allay our concerns to some degree. But at present, it appears that Minnesota may be embarking down the same path that led to disaster in Florida. Here is our reader’s email:
“When a voter arrives at the polls, he will be handed 3 pieces of paper. One local/fed/state, 1 judicial and 1 supplemental. At the time the ballots are presented to the voter, the judges are to cross off the preprinted senate race with a pink highlighter and make specific note to the voter of this invalid section and of the supplemental ballot as replacement. The entire Senate race (both supplemental and absentee ballots) will be hand counted. Absentee ballots will be delivered after the polls close to each precinct.
Judges will go though each one and match it with the voting record, ensuring that the voter is eligible in that precinct. Additionally, if the voter voted in person, the absentee ballot will be considered spoiled and the ‘in person’ vote will count.
Supplemental ballots will also be counted by hand. Rather than being run through the counting machine, they will be placed in cardboard boxes (by an election judge, not by the voter, which I’m assuming is intended to help minimize stuffing) and hand counted at the end of the evening.
There is a concern over fraudulent ballots due to the ‘easily photocopied’ nature of the supplemental ballot, so each must have the initials of two judges on the back side to be considered valid. However, initialing will be done both en-masse before the polls
open and during the day if additional are needed, rather than one at a time as each is handed to a voter, which leaves open the possibility that excess pre-initialed ballots might make their way into someone’s hands.
Judges were given instructions about ‘voter intent’ because it’s a hand count. Normally, during a machine count, things like the name circled, ‘Fritz’, an X in the oval would be kicked out by the machine, but since a hand count is taking place, judgment comes into play.
Poll watchers without credentials are only allowed in the polls after 8p to watch the hand count.
Hope you find this information useful. I have a copy of the official procedures and ‘Determining Voter Intent’ sheet if you’re interested. I really enjoy the work you and your buddies put into Powerline. Please keep up the excellent work.”
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