Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Parsing the Roanoke Times editorial on the ruling re: optical scan ballots

They said: "A three-judge panel of the Richmond Circuit Court issued rules last week for a retabulation -- not a recount -- in the razor-thin attorney general's election. Without double-checking ballots, questions will linger over whether more Virginians voted for Robert McDonnell or Creigh Deeds."

I say, what? The vote is being re-counted the same way it was counted the first time, by looking at the printouts from the optical scan machines.

They said: "The Richmond judicial trio received the unenviable task of setting the rules for next week's recount. Though both candidates agreed on most of the rules, the judges undermined the integrity of the process by choosing not to recount about 500,000 ballots cast on optical-scan forms and punch cards."

I say: There was no authority for this request under Virginia law, as the lawyers for Deeds conceded and the panel so held.

They said: "Deeds' attorneys argued election officials should run those ballots through tabulating machines again, separating out undervotes -- ballots on which it appears neither candidate received a vote -- for review. That way if, for example, a machine missed a Roanoke absentee voter's choice because he colored outside the bubble, officials could count the vote."

I say: Undervotes are normal. The existence of an undervote is no evidence that the vote count for the Attorney General's race is wrong.

They said: "McDonnell's attorneys opposed that move, arguing that reprocessing the ballots could introduce new errors."

I say: Why not? Virginia law is on their side.

They said: "The judges sided with McDonnell. Election officials next week will mostly just double-check their math, rerunning ballots only if the court finds something wrong with printouts from the initial tabulation."

I say: The judges applied the law, blame the legislature if you don't like it. See Va. Code § 24.2-802 ("The redetermination of the vote in a recount shall be conducted as follows: . . . 4. For optical scan tabulators, the recount officials shall first examine the printout to redetermine the vote. Only if the printout is not clear, or on the request of the court, the recount officials shall rerun all the ballots through a tabulator programmed to count only the votes for the office or issue in question in the recount and to set aside all ballots containing write-in votes, overvotes, and undervotes. The ballots that are set aside and any ballots not accepted by the tabulator shall be hand counted using the standards promulgated by the State Board pursuant to subsection A.").

They said: "That is not much of a recount. Officials cannot find miscounted votes if they only make sure they carried the seven. No doubt the first tabulation had a minimal margin of error, but its closeness demands extra scrutiny the second time round."

I said: See all of the above.

They said: "The panel left Deeds the option of challenging ballots on a locality-by-locality basis. Things will get ugly if his campaign cherry picks localities with heavy Democratic registration for challenges."

I said: I hadn't heard that one, the undervotes they were complaining about were in Chesterfield and Virginia Beach.

They said: "No one wants this recount to degenerate into Florida's 2000 debacle with officials peering at hanging chads, but next week's recount goes too far in the opposite direction by removing nearly all chance for correcting mistakes."

I said: Watch what happens. Don't blame judges for applying the law. If the law is no good, write a note to the governor.

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