Washington Libertarian Review

Political commentary from the State of Washington with a libertarian perspective.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

How many ballots can dance on the head of a pin?

King County discovered another error in its original counting of votes. 571 voters appear to have had their ballots wrongly rejected because a computer didn't have records of these voter's signatures even though the voters had properly registered. The story is here.

This comes on top of 1500 ballots that were improperly rejected earlier. That story is here.

The State Democrats sued asking Washington's Supreme Court to order the state to count every valid vote. But, the Supreme Court decided that a "recount," by state law, entailed only a "retabulation" of the ballots already counted, and did not entail "recanvassing" or reviewing what ballots qualified for counting. Only those ballots certified as valid for the original counting would be recounted. The Supreme Court decision (in pdf format) is here.

The Supreme Court explained: "'Recount' means the process of retabulating ballots and producing amended returns . . . and starts with the county canvassing board opening 'the sealed containers containing the ballots to be recounted.' . . . Thus, under Washington's statutory scheme, ballots are to be 'retabulated' only if they have been previously counted or tallied, subject to the provisions of RCW 29A.60.210."

What's that last "subject to" mean? Hmmmm. RCW 29A.60.210 says this: "The canvassing board shall conduct any necessary recanvass activity on or before the last day to certify the . . . election."

And, RCW 29A.60.190 says: "On the fifteenth day after a general election, the county canvassing board shall complete the canvass and certify the results."

So, it seems - as to the election held November 2, 2004 - the county canvassing boards shall have sealed the valid ballots and certified the general election results by November 17th at the latest. Both the first 1500 ballots and the later discovered 571 group of ballots would not be in the sealed boxes which are opened to start the "retabulation."

So, they don't get counted, right? Ah, maybe. RCW 29A.64.161 says "Upon the completion of the canvass of a recount, the canvassing board shall prepare and certify an amended abstract showing the votes cast in each precinct for which the recount was conducted." But wait, how can the board complete a "canvass of a recount" if all recanvassing must occur on or before November 17th?

Democrats are asking the King County Canvass Board to count the 571 votes notwithstanding the Supreme Court decision under its authority to canvass a recount and certify amended abstracts. But, if the board can review the 571 ballots, then why can't it review the original 1,500 ballots? And, if all these ballots (or if even any of them) can be reviewed, then what is the meaning of the Supreme Court's decision that there is only a "retabulation" of ballots that starts with unsealing the boxes of ballots originally counted?

When the Democrats ask the board to recanvass, it is likely that the board will agree. That's because the King County Canvass Board is comprised of 1) Dean Logan, the director of elections, appointed by Ron Sims - a proment Democrat, 2) Norm Maleng, a Republican, and 3) Dean Pelz - appointed by the King County Council Chairman.

Wait, who is the King County Council Chairman, whose designee will break ties as between the Democrat's representative Logan and Republican Norm Maleng? The Chairman of the Council happens to be Larry Phillips.

Why is that important? Because Larry Phillips' ballot is among the 571 ballots wrongly rejected in the original canvass. That story is here. Raise your hand if you think Larry Phillips' designee, Mr. Pelz, will vote to count his boss's ballot.

Republicans are, naturally, yelling about voter fraud on account of all this. The one thing we know for sure is that King County has some real problems getting accurate election returns. That is the most disturbing part of this entire election fiasco.


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