Be Careful What You Ask For

Article in Akron Beacon Journal expresses concerns with a statewide recount. What about a nationwide recount? <read>

Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy did not know she had defeated Republican Steve Stivers in a central Ohio congressional race until Dec. 5, more than a month after the 2008 general election.

The mix-up was the result of a contest too close to call when the polls closed, uncounted and disputed provisional and absentee ballots, tag-teaming lawyers and a litany of litigation.

For Ohio at large, that race exposed the continuing weaknesses in the state’s elections system.

Luckily for this state and the nation, the presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain was not close.

Imagine the chaos that would have ensued if Ohio were the last state standing in the presidential race because of uncounted provisional and absentee ballots. It’s not a stretch to think we would have been — and unless problems are addressed, could well be — the next Florida from 2000.

We have two points to make relative to this article.

First, we disagree with the thrust of the article that there is something wrong with counting carefully after a close election.   We are not familiar with the Ohio details, but waiting to Dec 2nd to get it right is well worth it.  Since we have absentee ballots, provisional ballots, military and overseas ballots they should be counted, especially when they may change the result.  These voters demonstrate a higher commitment to democracy, often working harder to vote than the average voter.

We  support of the careful process in Minnesota in the recent Coleman/Frankin statewide recount.  We have a national obsession, stoked by the media and apparent winners, with knowing the election results almost immediately.  We jump to the conclusion that the winner of the first approximate count on election night is actually the winner, even though there are many votes not yet counted and frequent errors in the reporting and accumulating of results.

If we want every vote to count and count accurately, then we need to take the time to get in right every time.  That includes counting very carefully when the results are close.

Second, imagine national popular election of the President.  Would we have a nationwide recount as careful as the Minnesota recount?  I doubt as we can rely on every state to do as good a job.  Some states without paper trails could not under any circumstances.  Could the country wait for a good job to be accomplished in all 50 states, with the media and the questionable initial winner pushing to complete the job?  Would there be endless suits?  Voters, parties and candidates going to court to challenge accuracy in many states.  With the National Popular Vote Agreement, could each state’s voters go to court against their state challenging the award of their electoral votes based on questionable counts from other states?  Could they go to court against those states for providing questionable numbers?

Worse.  Right now many states have recounts on close votes.  If there were a close presidential vote, only the states with close votes would actually do a recount – perhaps none.  But since every vote, every error  and every fraud could change the result, a close vote should require a national recount.  Even then, every state has its own way/standards for recounts.

Faced with 1) the facts of questionable counts, 2) the media and questionable winners sturring up worries, complaining of delays while filing suits, and 3) all the law suits – what would happen?  Would every reasonably close presidential election be decided by the Supreme Court?

The myth of every vote being equal, the risks of error and fraud, and the potential for legal chaos is why we are opposed to the popular election of the President, in any form, unless and until there are uniform election laws, enforceable, and enforced nationwide.

We have nothing against the well intentioned voters and legislators supporting the National Popular Vote Agreement.  We encourage them to recognize and consider the impact of unintended consequences.

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