"It's not the people who vote that counts. It's the people who count the votes that count". ---Josef Stalin
CNN reports that Democrat Al Franken may have as much as a 250 vote lead currently in the Minnesota senate seat hand recount. However, Republican Norm Coleman is preparing a lawsuit to present to the state supreme court to challenge some of the included votes that have been counted.
Every election is voted in all by sorts of adults, of all ages, and of varying levels of education, intelligence, etc. But strangely, some voters cast some bizarre votes that seemed to befuddle the hand vote counters. For example, at least one vote was cast for someone called "Al Frankenstein". Did they mean Al Franken? Or were they being belittling of Al Franken? In the end, the hand re-counters decided that what this voter meant was a vote for Al Franken. But it is also assumptions like this that are angering the Norm Coleman Campaign and helping to fuel the lawsuit to disqualify some votes.
The hand re-counters have probably used pretty good individual judgment in deciding the intention of every controversial vote, however the Coleman Campaign is wary of this and intends to use the courts to limit the number of votes counted that might be viewed as controversial in nature.
But to me it seems that the real problem is not so much that there were a tiny number of controversial votes of questionable intention, but the problem is that the election was so close that it highlights shortcomings in the vote counting process. Vote counting is not an exact science, but merely an approximate science. When millions of ballots are cast, human error programming equipment or machine error missing votes allows some votes to slip by uncounted. And compounding this problem are some persons who do not follow or understand the voting instructions. The fact of the matter is that in very close elections it is very difficult to get an exact count. With millions of votes cast in some states, there will likely be a slightly different outcome each time the ballots are cast by eith machine or by hand.
In 2004, shortcomings in the Washington state vote counting system were made very apparent in the very close governor's race which originally had Republican Dino Rossi narrowly ahead of Democrat Christine Gregoire by a few votes. Republican Secretary Of State Sam Reed received a great deal of anger from many fellow Republicans when he discovered that one box of votes from the Seattle area which was also a largely Democratic district were not not counted in the first machine count due to human error, and then these votes were added to the hand recount. Somehow many Republicans believed that this box of legally cast votes should not be counted in the total, even though it was a pure human error that failed to count this box of ballots on election day like any other ballot the first time. The fact of the matter was that both Republican Dino Rossi as well as Democrat Christine Gregoire had some votes that were not counted in the first machine count due to this error. Republicans were livid when Democrat Gregoire pulled slighyly ahead by a few votes in the hand recount because of this previously uncounted box of ballots from a Seattle neighborhood, and some Republicans even falsely claimed that the Democrats "manufactured" enough votes to win, which was of course untrue. If the uncounted box of ballots from one Seattle neighborhood had been from a rural area in Washington state instead, then Rossi's lead would have in fact been higher.
If anything, both the Washington state and the Minnesota mess as as well the 2000 presidential vote in Florida all only highlighted that the average vote counting system in many states is simply not accurate enough to determine a winner in very close races. A candidate must win by a big enough of a margin that it is beyond the limits of simple machine error or human error limits, or else there will be up to several recounts, including by hand, and lawsuits over which votes should be counted and which should not will only certainly result. And unfortunately urban myths will live on past every close election as well, that somehow someone was robbed of an office despite the best efforts of election officials to resolve a difficult mess impartially.
Lawsuits by the Norm Coleman Campaign might even claim that the "A Frankenstein" victory has been stitched together from pieces of dead voters or any other far fetched scenario. But the fact of the matter is that in any close election the shortcomings of the state's election system always become magnified. All states can do is to learn from past mistakes and keep improving the system. But that still won't satisfy a few unhappy campers it seems. It always seems that the winner of a close election is tainted by the aftermath of the recounts and the lawsuits, as well as the questions about which votes were counted and by whom.
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