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How Do You Lose Nearly 200,000 Votes?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

WNYC

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, Sam Roberts, urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, talks about the discovery of nearly 200,000 unreported votes from the mid-term elections.

The New York City Board of Elections just discovered almost 200,000 votes they didn't account for on election night in November. It doesn't appear to change any election results, but it's a high number for a newly implemented voting system that was supposed to be better. 

The Board of Elections always says election night is just a preliminary count, but this is a bigger mess-up than usual, Sam Roberts says. This high number of missing votes is all from mistakes on voting machines, he reports. The number doesn't include mistakes made with paper ballots. In Queens alone there were 80,000 more votes in last week's final tally than in the tally from election night, Roberts says.

This calls into question the whole validity of the process and, as someone from the Brennan Center pointed out, even if it doesn't change the results, it may change how candidates react to the preliminary results. Do you challenge them or not? Do you take formal action if it turns out the election was much more close than you thought it was?

Roberts calls the mechanics of the missing votes "mindboggling." He says the new digital scanning machines print out a very long receipt which is then cut up by hand by the election inspectors who work very long hours. 

Then they are sorted by election district. Then they are tallied on an adding machine. Then the results are marked on a tally sheet by hand. Those are given to a police officer. They're taken to the local station house and then are entered into a computer, so there are lots of places where mistakes can be made.  It's mindboggling to me that given the available software, at 9:01 they can't simply press a button and all the info from the machines goes into my computer or anywhere in the city.

New York is ranked very last among the 50 states in terms of access to voting. Mayor Bloomberg has come out with an initiative to make voting easier. Part of this is the creation of an early voting period and the extension of the registration deadline. Roberts says some of the initiative ideas are good, but he's still concerned.

The one thing that worries me is later registration, since the board seems barely able to handle registration as it is. 

Another way to change this voting trouble, Roberts says, would be to develop more efficient software for the next election.

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