Speedway Ray has requested an open thread to discuss the Cranston’s Mayor’s race, and I am happy to oblige. For those who don’t know, we had an exciting “hanging chads” type situation here where the Democrat, Michael Napolitano, was ahead by just 71 votes. There were over 500 ballots that did not register a vote for Mayor, and Allan Fung, the Republican candidate, wanted to be able to view those ballots during the recount to determine if there was sufficient evidence of the voter’s intent. He filed a lawsuit and the judge decreed that the uncounted ballots needed to be photocopied and set aside, but did not give permission for the Fung campaign to view the ballots.
As of yesterday, Fung conceded victory to Napolitano. So the excitement is apparently over.
But before this election is relegated to history, I think there are a few things to be learned in the name of progress and democracy. Geoff Schoos, who is now writing a column for the Cranston Herald, made some excellent points. Most significantly:
…There are approximately 500 ballots that did not register a vote in the mayoral race. These so-called undervotes, if manually reviewed, could impact the results of the race. The board has resisted this manual review of 500 pieces of paper yet is more than willing to oversee the manual insertion of 34,000 pieces of paper into a machine.
The reasons given by the board are that the manual review of 500 questionable ballots will â€œconfuseâ€? the process, there is no policy to review ballots rejected by the voting machine, and manually reviewing ballots would throw â€œthe objective electronic system [of tabulating ballots] down the tubes.â€? This is truly â€œThrough the Looking Glassâ€? stuff where the process is being run by the Mad Hatter.
Letâ€™s look at these assertions. Raymond Marcaccio, attorney for the board, argues that the â€œelectronic systemâ€? is virtually flawless but numerous studies have shown an â€œelectronic systemâ€? can be tampered with and sometimes even malfunction. Thatâ€™s why we have paper ballots â€“ as a backup.
Mr. Marcaccio has argued that photocopying and setting aside the 500 questionable ballots would â€œincrease the chances of human error.â€? Huh? Will there be no witnesses or procedures overseeing the complicated and technical process of operating a Xerox machine? This argument doesnâ€™t even pass the laugh test.
Mr. Kando, the boardâ€™s executive director, has stated that the board has no policies to manually review ballots that do not register with the voting machine. Well, whose fault is that? There is a procedure in place for the manual examination of absentee ballots. Why not adopt that procedure in this instance?
The Rhode Island Board of Elections is more concerned with process than results. The board is willing to exclude 500 votes that can impact the election for the sake of administrative expediency. This potentially disenfranchises voters who faithfully cast their ballots.
In 1981, Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Kelleher wrote in Buonanno v. DiStephano: â€œThe overriding purpose of the election laws is to give effect to the voterâ€™s choice. Each valid vote should be counted.â€? The justice rejected any assertion that investigations into an election should be avoided merely to uphold the electionâ€™s results.
Instead of coming up with reasons why votes canâ€™t or shouldnâ€™t be counted, the board should be feverishly working to identify valid votes to ensure that each is accurately counted. Thereâ€™s nothing much at stake here â€“ just the foundation of our democracy and the legitimacy of government.
While we were visiting family in Michigan, I had a discussion with one of my brothers-in-law, who serves on his local election board. They recently had a situation where a number of votes were counted as over-votes by their machines. In reviewing these ballots, they discovered that the pen connecting the line for a different vote on the back of the ballot had been pressed extra hard on these ballots and had shown through on the front side of the ballot, right between the other two lines for voting on another race.
A problem as simple as this could be affecting the 500 ballots in Cranston’s election, but we may never know because the Board of Elections refused to consider these ballots. (UPDATE: This article in the Cranston Herald indicates that all ballots were given a “cursory” review by both parties and thus the Fung campaign was able to determine that they were unlikely to pick up sufficient votes from the rejected ballots. So there was at least an unofficial process which allowed for addressing this issue.)
It seems to me that it is time to come up with some specific procedures for dealing with ballots not counted by the machines, to ensure that we are not throwing out votes because of technical difficulties.