Because Your Vote Should Count



Written by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.  

Tuesday, 01 December 2009 16:37


For nearly a century, as long as most of us can remember, lever machines have been used for voting in elections throughout New York State.  They have proved durable and reliable.  The votes have been counted at the polling place, in public, with the tallied numbers in plain view for all to see.  Any errors in reporting have been easily corrected by simply looking at “odometers” on the machines.


This fall, for the first time, as a “pilot” program, optical scanners were substituted for lever machines in much of the state, including most of the 23rd Congressional District, and problems with the vote count emerged on an unprecedented scale.


In at least four counties, the initial vote counts reported on Election Night were so far from the truth as to cause a candidate to concede prematurely.  Having never before witnessed such unreliable numbers, he doubted not the vote count, but his own ability to draw enough supporters to the polls.


But when the reported numbers were examined district by district, patterns began to emerge that were easily concealed at the county level.  In numerous election districts in Jefferson, Madison, Oneida and Oswego counties, the entire vote count for Doug Hoffman on the Conservative Party line was shifted to other candidates.  Sometimes Hoffman received the few votes of his opponents on the Independence or Working Families party lines, and sometimes he was left with no votes at all.


It is not entirely clear how this vote switching happened.  The Boards of Elections tend to blame the poll workers for misreading the computer printouts.  But votes were not only denied to Hoffman; his votes were delivered to his opponents.  For the “human error” explanation to be true, poll workers in more than a dozen polling places must have made the same two mistakes.


Perhaps the machines themselves reported the false numbers, or perhaps the votes were deliberately shifted in an attempt to run up a high enough margin on Election Night to get Hoffman to concede.  A forensic examination of the computer tapes and the “tally sheets” from the affected polling places should tell the tale.


This is not idle speculation.  The vote counts in these districts make clear that thousands of votes were affected.  And this is only what we know about.  With concealed electronic vote counting, partial shifts of the vote count could occur without a trace, and not be readily apparent in the election results.


Most, perhaps all, of the false counts reported on Election Night may have been corrected during recanvassing, especially in Oneida County where lever machines were still used.  But that is not the point.  The results reported on Election Night should never have been so terribly wrong in the first place.


Perhaps these alterations of the vote count were not of such magnitude as to reverse the outcome of the election.  But that is not the point.  Thousands of votes were not counted as cast.  We were denied our most fundamental right in what passes for a democracy.


Auditing elections is a difficult task.  Rarely does an election investigator have access to all the information needed to determine how many votes there were, and if all the votes were counted.  So few people have experience in the field that peer review is difficult to obtain in a timely manner.  All of this has to be done during a very short period of time within which an election can be challenged.  Mistakes are just as inevitable in an election audit as in the actual counting of votes.


But I have seen enough to be convinced that not all of the false numbers can be attributed to “human error.”  All of the shifting of votes from one Congressional candidate to another hurt Hoffman and helped an opponent.  So far as I know, the vote shifting that occurred in these counties was never once to Hoffman’s benefit.


The short-term remedy is to call this federally funded, court-ordered, “pilot” election an utter failure, and bring back the lever machines that served us so well for so long.  If a states’ rights movement is required to bring this about, so be it.


The long-term remedy is to question the very system that presumed to tell us how to run our elections.  This country belongs to the people, not to the federal government.  All New Yorkers, regardless of party affiliation, should demand a transparent, reliable vote count.  Our only power is our right to vote.  And if our votes are not counted as cast, then we have nothing.  We are powerless and disenfranchised, and we don’t live the lives we think we do.