This week the recount began in my county and I decided to volunteer some of my time as a Coleman Rep. Basically, my job was to watch the recount, challenge questionable ballots and double check the count. It is about as exciting as watching people collate paper, which is what it is, and it’s really boring.
First, an overview of the process: The ballots are delivered in sealed boxes which are opened at the tables. If there are any blank ballots, those are each individually checked (not fun, I had to sit and observe several hundred blank ballots get checked) then set aside. The real ballots are stacked before an election official, who begins to separate them into three piles: Coleman, Franken and “Other.” Once the ballots have been assigned a stack, each ballot is then checked for any identifiable marks (more on that later) and then they are counted. The final count is compared to the official count and the process is then repeated.
Some notes and observations:
-What I would consider “poorly” marked ballots are favoring Franken 2:1 (from what I’ve seen). By “poorly” marked I mean ballots where instead of properly filling in the entire oval, an “X” is struck through the oval. But, I’ve yet to see these poorly marked ballots change the actual count (the voting machines must be pretty good at their jobs). The DrudgeReport had a picture of a challenged Coleman ballot and that was nothing compared to some of the votes I didn’t challenge (and it wasn’t me being a maverick, the election judge and the Franken rep thought voter intent on those ballots was clear. At the table I was at, we put questionable efforts at the bottom of the stack, took a second look, and counted them. The head election official also looked at the ballots and decided voter intent was clear.)
-Campaign reps are allowed to challenge questionable ballots. Overvotes and “identifiable marks” are the two most common challenges. Overvotes are when a voter has marked more than one oval in a single race. (Some people filled in ovals, x’ed out their first choice and filled in another oval, these are the ballots getting challenged. What makes this a difficult matter is the fact some people just used “X’s” for their votes while others X’ed their votes and filled in the ovals.) “Identifiable marks” is more interesting, and a tad confusing. Back in the glory days of voter fraud, sinister types would pay for votes. Those paid-for votes would be validated by having an identifiable mark somewhere on the ballot so the corrupt counting official could verify x-number of successful pay-votes. (Of course, this simply raises the question of whether it is necessary to pay for votes when you’ve already got corrupt counters, but I digress…) So, any ballot with any stray marks (including the one I saw which actually had math being done on a blank part of the ballot) got challenged. Even rips in ballots were interpreted as being “marked” enough to challenge.
-Challenged ballots: those overvotes, marked ballots or “other”, go to the state canvassing board for final interpretation. The vast majority of these ballots aren’t going to get thrown out, imho, but you never know. The “identifiable marks” rule is archaic and I don’t know what level of enforcement the canvassing board will use in analyzing the challenged ballots.
-Rough estimation for challenged ballots is about 1 in 1000. This means about 2000 votes are going to go to the state canvassing board for a ruling (only Coleman or Franken votes are getting challenged, no one is really bothering with the Barkley et al votes.) Since the Franken campaign is being a little more aggressive about challenging ballots, this probably means more Coleman votes are getting set aside and it will mean Franken will be in the lead once the recount is finished, before the canvassing board does its thing. So, no worries if Franken appears to be “winning” the recount at first. The difference in votes is in the big brown envelopes going to state.
-I have seen some real interesting ballots. About 10% of the ballots I’ve looked at were McCain/Palin and Franken. There were about the same number of Obama-Coleman ballots. Barkley ballots appeared to favor Franken. One ballot I got to see was an “overvote cubed.” Every oval was filled in in most of the races. The person looked like they “voted” for every campaign they approved of, which was most of them.
-Bugs Bunny was the clear victor among the cartoon write-in options. The election officials and several Franken reps I worked with were disgusted with voters who would write in a fictional character in an official ballot. I said nothing, as “I resemble that remark.” However, Mickey Mouse was my horse, not the clearly vegetarian Bugs.
-My county should be done tomorrow, and I’ll be doing another shift volunteering in the morning. I have some other comments about the process but I’m holding off on making them until the recount is over (it’s a funny tactical thing involving the Franken people, something I and the other GOPers don’t want them to figure out and change just yet).