mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Re-vote? Re-count? Re-run?

John Fund is suggesting a revote to fix the Washington State mess over the gubernatorial race there.

I cringe at the idea of a revote, for the same reason I cringed at it four years ago in the Presidential election. A revote, knowing how close the race is, changes the incentives for everyone. It makes people who didn't care about voting the first time vote because they know it's close, and it means that the votes of those who bothered to vote the first time count less the second time since more people vote.

Sadly, I don't have the answer to what the Washington State solution is. I do know that making simple statements like "make every vote count" like in Florida four years ago are meaningless. I have a unique perspective on this. One of the tasks the college I work for has given me is to help set up and maintain the machines that process student evalutations of teachers. These are scantron sheets that are fed through scanners. Data that matches gets entered in the database, while questionable sheets are marked for verification by a human. That is where the difficulty comes in - we had some test batches that had, for example, two circles filled in for the same question. What do you do with that? Throw it out? Count both? Try to figure out the person's "intent"? Luckily, I don't have to answer these questions - I don't verify, I just one of the people who make sure the PC's and software work. But it made me realize that the hanging chads from Florida are more complicated than people realize - some votes will always have to be thrown out, because there is no fair way to count them.

But while I don't like the idea of a revote, John Fund is right on about the need to improve the voting process. He points out that absentee votes can be used by 65% of Washington residents - something that needs to change to make voting fair. It's harder to count absentee ballots (they are paper, and more likely to have hanging chads or double-filled circles), and there is more potential for fraud. The point of absentee ballots is for people who absolutly can't make it to vote (physically incapable of leaving the house, in college in another state, out of the country on business), not for people too lazy to drag their ass to the polling place.

Electronic, or at least mechanical, voting also needs to get implemented wherever possible. They eliminate the possibility of hanging chads or misfilled circles, and thus the need to make complicated and subjective human judgement calls about "voter intent". And they are unlikely to be "found" under a pile of stuff like some of the Washington ballots seem to have been.


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