15 October 2014

COLUMBUS -- It was easier to walk into the Franklin County Board of Elections to witness the recount of votes than it was to get into a preview screening of "Finding Neverland." I totally expected to have to open my bag and be scanned by a metal detector when entering the building. Weeks earlier that happened to me when I went to Easton for a movie premier. I guess it's more important to make sure the citizenry isn't bootlegging movies. After all, we're no Warren County.

That was the first surprise of my experience on December 14, 2004. I hadn't expected to be called to serve but someone had to cancel at the last minute and I answered my phone so there I was. I met Amy in the lobby and she gave me a letter from David Cobb which was all I needed to become a bonafide witness. No one ever asked to see it, or any identification for that matter. The only time I did see any security personel was when I passed one in the hallway on my way to the restroom. But like I said before, we're no Warren County.

A little after 9 a.m., the volunteers were called to order by the director and deputy director. They explained the process, as they had interpreted it, as they were free to do, because we had learned in the training that every county was free to decide how they wanted to read the state code concerning recounts. We in Franklin county did not witness the selection of the ballots that had been randomly chosen (as far as we knew). That magical number was 3% of 58,000 that had been rounded up to 60,000. I'm terrible with percentages but no one disputed the number so I figured it must be good math.

The procedure for verifying the electronic voting machines (or DRE's as we in the know call them) was explained. The machine used for the recount was not used on election day. (I'll bet the people who waited in line with me and my daughter for 3 hours to vote would like to know that.) Witnesses were to verify the machine read zero and sign off on the test tape. Personally, I didn't view this process- I was assigned to Team 4 and we were to check out absentee ballots. Punchcards. I remembered the footage from years past showing the mess in Florida and the officials holding the cards up to the light. The words "hanging chad" and "pregnant chad" came to mind. In my world, 9 a.m. is too early for that kind of nonsense. But curiosity won out over dread and I followed my teammates to the table and folding chairs set up to accomodate hours of chad scrutiny in relative discomfort.

Our official were pleasant and professional. They showed up the cards and cardboard cut out they had prepared to make the reading of the punchcards easier. All we were concerned with was what hole the absentee voter punched to declare a choice for president. The card was laid on a background of red paper and the cardboard cut out was lined up over it and it was clear to see who got the vote. Out of the 360 cards assigned to our team, there was not one hanging, pregnant or doubtful chad. People really do know how to punch holes in cards. A few were so enthusiastic, they punched more than one. Out of the pile though, only 4 people had decided multiple presidents were needed to govern. Seven people underpunched, that is, made no selection-ah! but there is always the write-in option open to even the absentee.

As we were nodding our approval to our diligent official as he held up each card for inspection, the deputy director made an announcement. The write-in votes would also be reviewed that morning. Thank you very much. One official at our table looked at me and her co-worker and mentioned that was the first time she'd heard that bit of info. Counting continued. Once we had established that out of 360 punchcards, 4 were overpunched, 7 were underpunched, one vote was cast to the Libertarian ticket, 78 people found it necessary to continue the abuse started in 2000, and 270 absentee voters wanted change and believed John Kerry was the best bet for a better future. It was my impression the Republican party members at our table weren't thrilled with that result but if they were expecting to find votes for their boy in Franklin County, they were living in a bigger dream world than those who wrote-in Mickey Mouse. Oh, wait! Republicans have a different definition for reality than the rest of us, correct?

Next step was to count the punchcards as they had been divided into presidential piles and make certain the totals agreed with the hash marks that had been recorded by the official hash mark maker. Once verified, it was off to the room where the punchcard counter waited. The machine was verified by all to be set at zero and the cards were fed through. "What a smooth operation," I was thinking when the first card jammed.

The offending punchcard was removed and brought over for us to see. We were told the damage wasn't in the section of the punchcard we were concerned about (the presidential section.) The slight damage was repaired and the card joined its mates in the stack. Counting resumed and moments later, another card jammed. The ritual of inspection and repair was repeated. The final count matched our numbers. But the question posed by the Democrats' observer- Why weren't those damaged cards caught the first time? It was answered by the Deputy Director with an explaination of light and holes and chance.

Now it was time to wait. Wait on the team who completely screwed up their count and had to start over again. In the end, the numbers added up.

I had a nice chat with the Democrat with whom I'd observed the counting. Funny, the Republicans had taken command of the only table in the waiting room fit to eat lunch on. It was their command center and they weren't sharing space. That's okay, they didn't win Franklin County so I guess they needed that table to console themselves. Strange how Democrats and Independents can talk but Republicans huddle together.

Sometime between 11:30 and noon, the Deputy Director called for individuals to observe the counting of the absentee ballots. Since my boss knew where I was and what I was doing, I volunteered. I'm poor anyway and the lost hours could be made up or added to my unemployment check. Off I went to learn the mysteries of the write-in.

Electronic voting machines (DRE's to you and me now) are equipped with a button that opens a little window where a voter can write anything they choose. Believe me, they do. Some choose not to write anything, others, I was told, go with the time tested obscenities. These are non-valid votes but must be noted. Working from an abstract generated by the machines' report that the little window opened, the officials have forms, red ones, that are filled out at the captain of each polling place. If the abstract says the window in Precinct X opened, then the red form should have info about that vote.

Mickey Mouse, Martin Sheen and Lewis Fahrakhan tied with 2 non-valid votes. Jessie the Body Ventura received 2 votes proving there are still hardcore WWF fans out there. Butch Davis won 2 votes so if you know him, let him know. There's always next time, Butch. A couple of people wanted a Clinton back in the White House but only one bothered to specify Bill. I'm stunned Mickey Mouse got one more vote than Kermit the Frog! C'mon people! It ain't easy being green but he doesn't give up! Just like David Cobb who, by my very UNofficial count received 20 write-in votes as a valid write-in candidate. Ralph Nader captured the hearts of 96 faithfuls. (Again, my numbers here are very UNofficial.)

Absentees are also able to write-in candidates of their chosing. Some chose themselves and their immediate family members. That's confidence.

The officials counting the write-ins were helpful and explained the procedure to us. The only thing that seemed off to me was a few precincts needed to have their tapes looked at to account for the write-in vote. Voting machines (DRE's, if you're hip) print 3 copies of their tapes. Two of the precincts' "official" tapes weren't located. The copies were available but it's still a mystery as to the whereabouts of the two missing ones. I asked my friend in California who works for a county board of elections there about this. She thought out of the hundreds of tapes the disappearance of two wasn't a big deal. An incident like that in her county wouldn't be mentioned because it's something the media could get nasty about. Hmm...interesting how 4 write-in votes are viewed as "unimportant" by some in this push to count them all. If a bank handled 10,000 transactions in a day and lost 4, that wouldn't be important, would it? Unless it was yours?

Someone asked me if the write-in votes were wasted. Not to me. Voting is a form of personal expression. If all write-in votes were considered valid, elections would be much more interesting. And perhaps taken more seriously. If you knew someone HAD to physically read your vote in front of witnesses, wouldn't it make you feel more confident about the process? Especially if you lived in Warren County?

Another person asked me what effect I thought the recount would have and how did I feel about volunteering my time to take part in it? Honestly, I doubted that it would change anything in my county. Perhaps a few votes here or there. As to my feelings about participating, especially when I hadn't really expected to, it was an education. I learned more about the voting process than I'd ever hoped to. I've always had my doubts about DRE's (electronic voting machines to those who haven't been paying attention) and my doubts, I felt, were justified.

The observer training taught me that the laws concerning elections haven't caught up to the technology. That's something people need to know about. Voters need to question why some counties use one method and others a different one. We now know how inadequate the Ohio code is concerning recall procedures. States who have not been in the position of calling a recount should take the time to review and revise their codes. Who knows which state is next? If Miss Cleo had called me and told me that Ohio would be the state in a state of controversy, I'd have laughed. This is an issue that should concern people of all political parties- Those who want every vote to be safe and assured as well as those who don't want to be called cheaters.