Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dan Neil got so close, and yet...

As the saying goes, "It ain't over till the Fat Lady sings". Well tonight, after a two day recount, the fat lady started singing with regard to the Texas House District 48 race. Every paper ballot that had made it past the various ballot boards was examined by Republican and Democratic counters to determined the voter intent. Every electronically cast vote made on the eSlate machines was supposedly verified.

The final tally is as follows:

Donna Howard 25,023 votes
Dan Neil 25,011 votes
margin 12 votes

The margin of difference shrunk 25% from what it was before the recount, when it was just 16 votes. That's 25% human or paper ballot reader error in the spread between the two candidates' votes!

Dan Neil, in a post-recount TV interview, did not take the bait when he was asked by the reporter if he thought there might have been some malfeasance involved rather than human or machine error. He said that he simply wanted to eliminate error in the vote count and joked that "he does not make errors "but understands that "others sometimes do." There is still a possibility that error remains in the count and for that reason he is not quite ready to concede.

In a TV interview immediately following the unofficial results of the recount, in response to a question about what Dan Neil's recourse would be after the vote had been canvassed and reported to the Secretary of State, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said that it would be up to the Legislature to consider any challenge to the results and that the Legislature would have full and final authority to seat either Dan or Donna according to the will of the majority of its Members.

Dan said he has no plans at this time to make such a challenge. However, he remains concerned about some of the overseas ballots. In particular, he is concerned about those ballots that were supposed to be marked to limit the vote to Federal races only, i.e. the Congressional race (for voters living indefinitely outside of the country) but which were improperly marked by the County Clerk's office prior to mailing them to persons overseas who were/are in the military as well as to persons who were not residing indefinitely outside the country. His concern is that all voters who had a legitimate right to vote in the HD 48 race have their vote counted according to their intent, no matter the outcome.

I served as a ballot counter and in that capacity looked at the ballots in three different precincts (247, 379, and 364). Of all the ballots we counted there were no ballot issues that resulted in a change of the vote--so those precincts were recount neutral. Neil won the combined ballots in those precincts by 3 votes.

The ballots we counted included some of the limited ballots. For these ballots the non-Federal race choices were not all marked ineligible in the same manner on each ballot and in no case were the Straight Ticket choices marked ineligible. The recount ballot board Chairman, Judge Bill Aleshire said that the Straight Ticket choices were not eligible on a limited ballot and that the ballots should have been so marked--thus, Neil's claim that these ballots were marked improperly. I wondered if some of these ballots might have been mailed to voters who had not checked the box (c) A U.S. CITIZEN RESIDING OUTSIDE THE U.S. INDEFINITELY on their REGISTRATION AND ABSENTEE BALLOT REQUEST - FEDERAL POST CARD APPLICATION (FPCA)?

There were also some ballots by email that we looked at. The votes on each of these ballots had been made into (transferred to) a full size paper ballot. We saw both the printout of the original email (made to) ballot as well as the full size (made from) ballot that was used for the count. Most of these were limited ballots and since they were transmitted electronically, there was no question that the voter could only vote in the eligible race (the Congressional race) as that was the only race presented on the electronic ballot. Each of the other emailed (made to) ballots was simply a small version of a full size (made from) ballot with all races listed and eligible to vote in. I'm not sure how a voter requests an email ballot nor what the controls are on the eligibility and submission process.

There was one ambiguous ballot that my group counted and another similar ballot that I looked at from a precinct we didn't count but the bin of which I was asked to go through to look for certain ballots that poll watchers wanted copies of.

On the ballot that we counted, all boxes next to Republican candidates were clearly marked, but in the HD 48 race the check mark in the box beside Neil had been scratched out almost to the point that the box was completely shaded in and the box beside Howard was checked twice. Additionally, after Howard's name, in the white space, was a smaller check mark with a curved tail, unlike the other check marks on the ballot both in style and weight (it appeared to me to be from another's hand). I said that I could not determine the voter's intent, the Democrat counter objected and Chairman
Aleshire ruled it as a vote for Howard pointing out in the process that he does not consider how voters vote in other races when judging voter intent in a particular race.

On the ballot from the other precinct, in which I didn't count, I saw the same voting pattern in terms of Republican Party votes but this time there was an X through the Neil box and a check in the Howard box, plus the markings beside Neil included what appeared to be someone's initials.

That pretty much covers the "exciting stuff." Now for a couple of sobering points:

There were under votes in which other races on the ballot above and below the HD 48 race were voted on a ballot but the HD 48 race was not voted. In a contest this close that under-vote seems to me to be a critical mistake for a voter to make, i.e. to be knowledgeable enough, or simply willing, to make a choice in the race for their State Representative.

Need it be said again, "EVERY VOTE COUNTS" and every effort to earn a vote counts. The candidate, the donors, the volunteers and the paid campaign staff could have done more. I could have done more to turn out the vote for Dan Neil.

It still may not be the final line or final note of the Fat Lady's song with regard to the HD 48 race but we have all been politically exercised and educated no matter how the song ends. I know from observing and interacting with Dan Neil that he just wants the legitimate intent of each and every voter to count and to be counted, no matter the outcome.

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