Monday, March 30, 2015

Doing a recount of votes...

It is no secret that I spent many years as an election official.  I have seen election acrimony come and go more times than I care to think about and I have conducted my fair share of recounts.   Recounts have changed down through the years.

(Originally posted by Mrs Raptor on Open Salon April, 8, 2011, more details below)

Back in the days when we used voting machines like these:

recounts were time-consuming and almost painful for the election officials. Oddly enough, when we used machines like those there were more people turn up for public accuracy tests.   More people showed up to watch when there was a recount as well.

Back when we used those machines it took about 8 hours after the polls closed to complete the paperwork and take it to the county clerk for certification of the results; and every time we PRAYED we didn't have a recount to do.   Recounts on those machines were... time consuming.   It would take 8 to 12 hours to recount the results from the machines and retabulate everything.  But we got through it.

Then we went to machines like this:

Which took ballots that looked like this after we had voted them:

 Those were easier in some ways and more difficult in others to recount.   It took less time, generally recounts could be done by machine and took less time.  But as we all saw in the 2000 election they were fraught with their own problems when one had to do a hand recount.  Determining "voter intent" became somewhat problematic if the voter either changed their mind OR didn't press hard enough with the stylus to knock the perforated square out of the hole in question.

Now we use tabulators which look like this:

Recounts, unless one must do them by hand, which can only be done with a court order, take about 20 minutes for every thousand ballots.

What happens is that the Board of Canvassers calls the clerk of the election to bring in the ballots sealed in their can and everyone who was an election inspector for the election.  Then everyone sits down at a table and the first thing that happens is the board of canvassers orders the seal on the can to be broken  and they inspect the applications to vote.   If the applications to vote match the poll book a call is made to the Secretary of State to reset one machine to zero and a trio of election inspectors run all of the ballots through a single machine.  At that point the book and the total usually balance and the recount is over.   The can is resealed, the new seal number is recorded, the machine and the can are locked back up in a closet that nobody other than the clerk of the election has keys to and everyone except the board of canvassers goes home.

Occasionally a manual recount will be ordered by a court and frankly I LOATHE manual recounts.   What happens with a manual recount is that the inspectors (and they must be certified inspectors) are broken into teams of three (the law says three... there had better be three or the results can be challenged in court *again*) and, for whatever race the recount is needed, they divvy up the ballots and go through that particular race tallying up the votes manually.  Manual recounts are, despite having to have three inspectors for each team, fraught with mistakes; which explains why there are frequent breaks when doing a manual recount AND why there are several teams double checking the counts of one another.

Manual recounts can take hours, days or weeks.   How long they take depends entirely on how many ballots must be recounted and how many people you have doing the recounts.

Sometimes courts will decide, as they did in 2000, that the recount is taking too long and shut them down.  In my honest and considered opinion this should *never* happen.   The voters have the RIGHT to have every vote counted... regardless of whether we agree with one another or not and courts stepping in to stop recounts tends to disenfranchise voters in a way that nothing else can.

By the way, these days we have another cool new toy (that does not work half the time) called a "voter assist terminal."  The purpose of a VAT is to assist voters who are blind, deaf or otherwise handicapped in voting their ballot.  Anyone can use the VAT, and I have used it several times to demonstrate to voters that it really works and yes... I go from the VAT to the tabulator wtih my ballot even after demonstrating the thing to voters.  I don't CARE if they know how I voted...  I care if they TRUST that their vote WILL be counted.

This is what a VAT looks like:

More information on the election process can be found:

Election Season
After the polls close
Election Day
The following are the original replies when this was first posted on Open Salon.

Thanks to Disco, for inviting us to read this informative post.

It is such a worry today to wonder if your vote will be counted the way you intended.

rated with love

RomanticPoetess April 08, 2011 11:19 AM

Fett told me to read this. He's right - it's cool and good to know. Given the source, that's not surprising.

koshersalaami April 09, 2011 04:46 PM

Disco... Nah... I'm not the "coolest"... though I may be the strangest. LOL

Romantic... Thanks. Election officials are mostly honest, hard working people who willingly give up certain rights in order to do a necessary (and normally thankless) job for their fellow citizens.

Padraig... democracy is not simple nor is it quiet... but it works better than dictatorships.

Hey Kosh... I admit to being an "odd duck" who willingly gives up her right to express a public opinion on an issue or candidate on the current ballot in return for my fellow citizens having the right to have every vote count.

Bonnie... I honestly think that in circumstances where the issues are "contentious" they should bring in inspectors from outside the area to do the recount. People who don't have a "dog in the fight" are, at least in my experience, more likely to truly be "fresh eyes" looking at the ballots and sometimes that is necessary.

MrsRaptor April 10, 2011 01:15 PM

Originally posted at Doing a recount of votes... although it won't be available there much longer it can be confirmed by those who have access to Google archives or other archives.

Mrs Raptor, is a native American that has spent time in Michigan, the Dakotas and Canada and was a poll worker. She posted this on Open Salon years ago, but Open Salon is closing and I thought it would be a good idea to continue making this available so I saved it and reposted it under fair use. This is some of the things that could be kept in mind when enacting election reform. Even Jimmy Carter has admitted that our system has major problems that should be addressed. I suspect that Mrs. Raptor would agree that it wouldn't hurt to confirm these details with local poll workers, even though I see no reason to doubt her. This is because many polls across the country have different systems and some of them may have changed since she wrote them, so even if you're in the same are she worked that isn't guarantee that they haven't changed since then.

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