31 March 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.