In My Opinion
by Caroline Porter

Local examples prove machine counts can be fast -- but compound human error

Just like the world was a huge third grade class, other countries in the world are gleeful when the popular leader has problems. It's a human being thing. Other countries whose governments collapse at the slightest loss of confidence, who must have re-elections of the whole parliament and leadership at the drop of a hat, who have dictatorships and kings and religious wars -- are laughing at us? I beg your pardon.

Our government is doing just fine, thank you. We have a president and congress and judiciary in place, and the huge bureaucracy just thumps along no matter who does what. We have a race for president of the United States which is too close to call and the stakes are high. In this country people are so used to instant gratification, like knowing who the president is before the polls are closed -- but then, we complain about that too.

In Illinois, losing candidates are entitled to ask election authorities to conduct a recount to determine if there are any irregularities which would justify a further recount. The governmental units pay for the first small, ''discovery'' recount, then the candidate bears the cost of any further recounts. The candidate who is paying for the recount process is allowed to choose which counties or precincts he wants recounted.

This is pretty standard procedure. I've witnessed elections being won or lost by one vote, six votes, 10 votes, 11 votes. I saw a Democratic primary recount process delayed so long by a Republican judge in 1992 that it effectively sabotaged the race for State Representative in the general election. It was not resolved in six months. I've witnessed recounts where two or three votes were gained (or lost) which changed the results of the election.

Complaints were received from early morning of election day about the strange ballot in Palm Beach County. The election was close enough in all of Florida that by state law there was an automatic machine recount of the whole state. Whether you support the recount situation depends upon whether you support Vice President Al Gore or Governor George Bush. If Bush loses the race for president because of the current recount, watch out for recounts in other states.

Yup, we, too, are acting like we are in third grade -- not patient enough to let the process be completed, not smart enough to understand anything about election law. Voters and rights and laws be damned, we want our candidate to win.

Let me tell you a story about votomatics in Galesburg and how votes were screwed up and not counted by machines in a primary in 1974. I was running in the Democratic primary for Knox County Board, district 2. In those days, one Democrat on the ballot was suspect, let alone any competition in the primary. After the election, a little bird from the election office called my attention to the fact that I had received virtually no votes in two precincts of my County Board district.

After some digging, I learned that the Galesburg Election Commission had consolidated two precincts into one from two different County Board districts. In the polling place were two ballots for the same precinct, one listing County Board District One candidates and one with county Board District Two candidates. The problem is, the judges got the ballots switched and voters from my County Board District didn't find my name on their ballot and voters from District One saw my name on the ballot but votes for me wouldn't be counted because it was the wrong County Board District. I complained to the Election Commission. They learned they can't consolidate precincts or change lines except at redistricting time (every ten years) and they divided the precinct into two again. I lost 14 votes in that process.

In the other precinct in district two where I had no votes, my name had not been programmed into the system at all so 34 votes for me were simply not counted by the machine. I lost a total of 48 votes in that small Democratic primary election.

Now this was not a contested election, but magnify this kind of human error into the machine counting process in a close presidential race involving millions more voters and you have an enormous problem. Don't tell me how machine counts are always more accurate than hand counts. They are much faster but if there is a mistake, it is compounded quickly and disastrously.

Our constitution and election laws have been tested before and we have a good system in place. We might not like the results but we have no reason to be embarrassed about the process.

Let's watch it work. And like a true leader, ignore the flak from the other third graders.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online November 22, 2000

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