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Humankind-You can’t stop democracy

You can’t stop democracy, but I did manage to slow it down for a few minutes. Nov. 3rd’s election had many interesting ballot issues like bonds to help Gulf War Vets, legalized gambling, farmer’s food production regulation, tax levy’s, and colorful albeit sometimes uncontested local races. This was a pretty big election for an off year.

Now you know we don’t have a lot of people here in November, even when it is voting day. On this Election Day our population seemed to swell just a bit.  People you rarely see all year come out to vote. In the village here we are just a few people shy of 120 registered voters. I think the entire island probably had about 450 voters who came out to vote that Tuesday.  However, we still need “cutting edge” digital computerized technology to complete our voting tasks. No hand counting, ballot boxes, or mechanized voting machines (that can’t count hanging chads) are used anymore in the State of Ohio.

Heck maybe we should model our selves after the famous Dixville Notch (NH). They can get the whole town out to vote at midnight. They use simple ballot boxes. In one minute the vote is over and counted. (To be fair they only have 26 registered voters. We would need three or four minutes I figure.)

In Ohio computerized voting machines tally our paper ballots. However, something so seemingly simple does not always mean it is completely easy to use.  Poll worker training must be done now before every election on all the latest procedures and technology upgrades.  Your Election Day pole worker staff not only is trained before every election now but they must be technology savvy.

The ballots, while made of paper, actually have a software code on the edge that provides the computerized tally machine with the data required to process your vote accurately. This simple, straightforward form of computerized election result tallying, works really well, 99.9 percent of the time. That Tuesday, as it turned out was the .1 percent day. But don’t blame the machine or the poll workers.

When I was in college my minor was in Political Science. We learned that the “vote not cast” had as much power as those we carefully choose. Huh? Let me explain.

You go into the voting booth and there are three candidates for two positions. If you only really want to vote for one person, you are not required to vote for two if you don’t want to. So by voting for just one of candidates you essentially take away a vote from one of the other two candidates. This strategy, if used by a significant number of the voters, can actually make your singular votes more statistically valuable because you are only voting for your first choice. In the one vote, multi-candidate scenario the first and second place vote getters are really true voter first choices.

So for this past November election we had several multicandidate races. You could vote for 4 of 5 village council seats and 2 of 3 township trustees. The programming on the paper ballot is designed to make sure that you vote for the required number of candidates. If you decide to vote for less than the maximum allowable the computer “scores” your ballot as “under voting”.  A warning beep and message comes up that reminds the voter that they can still vote for another candidate(s).

So I went in got my ballot and voted. I actually voted for the maximum number in each of the races. I put it in the machine and it gave it back to me with a warning. Ok, maybe I did not completely fill in the circles. So I took it back and carefully redid the ballot marking. I put it in and “beep” the warning went off again. I tried about a dozen times, upside down and backwards. I thought it was just me so I stepped away and allowed others to put in their ballot.

Thankfully I was not alone. Every village voter (we know this now, but not that morning) had a defective ballot. A hanging chad if you will. There was a partial second village candidate ballot question that got accidentally left on the bottom of the ballot. Every village voter was getting the same warning “beep”. Our brave poll worker captain called “election central” at the Ottawa County Board of Elections office and they initially figured the voting machine was defective. So voting was stopped. Meanwhile, I sat holding my ballot anxiously awaiting to finish voting, while our poll worker crew set up the “back up” voting machine. After about 5 minutes they had the second machine up and running. I eagerly placed my ballot in only to get a “beep” of omission again. It was “voter versus machine”, could the computer really make a mistake? Our head judge was back on the phone with election central.  A small group of hopeful voters in the room waited. After a tense minute of “behind the voter booth curtain” of the Ottawa County elections office the verdict was in, segregate the village voters’ ballots and “hand count” them later.

Well I want you to know this story does have a happy ending for some. Of course the winners of the election that day, our valiant poll workers for dealing with adversity in the face of democracy delayed, and the Ottawa County Elections Office that declared that “all was well” at the end of the day. Even though the ballot was flawed, the votes were counted properly. Any way I learned you can’t have a mandatory recount unless there is less than one half a percent margin of victory. Whew, thankfully, despite a flawed ballot, our wonderful poll workers team ensured us that democracy would march on this Election Day.

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