Monday, August 13, 2007

On the Counting of Chickens

This Saturday, voters went to the polls in Kanawha County to decide whether the neighborhood dog track should be allowed to expand its gambling venture to include table games. I haven't had much to say about it (if you're interested, see what jedi jawa, Muze, and the WV blogger collective has to say), mostly because while I work in Kanahwa County I don't live there and thus can't vote (and I haven't been to the dog track since we autocrossed there several years ago). My apathy aside, it's been a hard issue to avoid, given the media push by both sides in the greater Charleston metroplex.

The vote was close. Really really close. More than 45,000 votes were cast. At the end of the day Saturday, the "yes" side was ahead by a mere 33 votes. That's a margin of 0.08%. Notice that I said "ahead," rather than say "won." That's because there are more than 500 votes outstanding that will have to be examined and calculated by the County Commission later this week. Then there is the possibility of a recount, regardless of what the final numbers are. On top of all that, today an additional 64 ballots were discovered in a precinct that went overwhelmingly "no" on Saturday. It should be an interesting few days.

Given that, given how close the vote stands now and how there are plenty enough outstanding ballots to swing the outcome either way, you'd think both sides would be cautious about what's going on. Not the "yes" folks, which is mostly the dog track and related folks. They declared victory Saturday night, glibly announcing that usually when the outstanding ballots are counted in cases like this they tend to track the numbers already in.

That may be true, but by staking their position from the outset, the "yes" side has poisoned the well. The body responsible for reviewing the ballots, the County Commission, was fairly pro-table games prior to the election. Here's the process:

Carper and Commissioners Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores, meeting as the Board of Canvassers, will start the canvass at 7 a.m. Friday. Before that, McCormick will check each challenged ballot to see if the voter was registered, voted at the wrong precinct, changed addresses or the county made an error, Carper said.
How might it turn out?
Of the 586 challenged ballots, Carper says he expects most will be discarded. 'In talking to poll workers who said a lot of people weren’t registered, I’m guessing we’ll count between 50 and 150.'

* * *

'It appears there was a very heavy number of people voting who were not registered,' he said. 'Those are illegal ballots. You can’t count them even if you want to.'
Can they be the neutral body needed to judge the validity of these ballots? If the numbers come out in support of the "yes" camp, will the "no" camp have a legitimate beef that the result was predetermined? Given what's been said already, they might.

Didn't we play this game in 2000 in Florida? Granted, I think we've moved passed hanging chads and what not, but I'm getting the same sort of queasy feelings I did back then. The stakes are lower, of course (for all its faults, the dog track is unlikely to mistakenly invade Ohio sometime soon). But it shows, again, how painfully vulnerable the democratic process is when things get so tight.

No comments: