26 January 2007

How not to recount an election

Ohio election workers convicted of rigging 2004 presidential recount
Jacqueline Maiden, elections coordinator of the Cuyahoga County Elections Board, and ballot manager Kathleen Dreamer each were convicted of a felony count of negligent misconduct of an elections employee. They also were convicted of one misdemeanor count each of failure of elections employees to perform their duty.

����Prosecutors accused Maiden and Dreamer of secretly reviewing preselected ballots before a public recount on Dec. 16, 2004. They worked behind closed doors for three days to pick ballots they knew would not cause discrepancies when checked by hand, prosecutors said.

��Defense attorney Roger Synenberg has said the workers were following procedures as they understood them.

����Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed to defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the close election and hold on to the White House in 2004.

Convictions in Ohio Recount Tampering Case
Why would they do such a thing? Does this mean that the election really was stolen after all?


The prosecutor in the case didn't allege that the recount was rigged for political reasons. Rather, it appears that the officials did so in order to avoid having to manually recount over 600,000 punch card ballots. Had they really selected the 3% of ballots at random, it's likely that the hand and machine counts wouldn't have matched. Remember that Cuyahoga was using punch card ballots. An inherent problem with this equipment is that hanging chad can get pressed back into place when put through the machine. Sometimes, chad can actually come out during the recounting process. A truly random recount would likely have meant that all the ballots in Cuyahoga County would have to have been recounted. As I mentioned at the time the indictment came down, I wouldn't be surprised if the allegations are true. In fact, I suspect that officials in Ohio's other counties did the same thing.

To be clear, this isn't at all to excuse the conduct in which these officials engaged, or to deny that they deserve to have been convicted. Where the law prescribes a particular procedure, it's critically important that those procedures be followed -- even when it's certain that the outcome won't be affected. The failure to follow prescribed procedures will only contribute to public distrust of the integrity of our election system, something that nobody wants (except that small cadre of pundits who have made a career out of spinning conspiracy theories about stolen elections). The crimes of which these officials have now been convicted are therefore serious ones ... even though they didn't affect the outcome of the 2004 election.

Okay, the Kerry Administration stays in the realm of alternate history, but it's ridiculous that election laws can be blatantly ignored, there's no way to test that by a proper recount, and the only form of review is a criminal prosecution 2 years after the election. Even if the Ohio case had shown now that Kerry should have got Ohio's votes, that would not undo the count in the electoral college where Ohio's votes elected Bush.

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