Thursday, June 05, 2008

Recounts and the Finality of Numbers

Recounts and the Finality of Numbers

With the potential of recounts looming in the Republican U.S. Senate and 2nd Congressional District races, it's worth looking at why the numbers you see on election night change later and why the results are "unofficial."

The results aren't final on election night. That's both a formality and a reality.

The formality is the canvass of votes, usually about a week after the election. The auditor presents the numbers to the county Board of Supervisors, and after some cursory level of review the Board certifies the results. Any recount request would happen after the canvass, though candidates could certainly announce their intentions sooner. Indeed, Peter Teahen campaign manager Wes Enos said a recount request is "very likely" in the 2nd District, where Teahen trails Mariannette Miller-Meeks by 109 votes. The recount request deadline is 5:00 Friday, June 13.

That deadline is important in the senate race, where both the close margin and the percentage are at issue. George Eichhorn doesn't have to surpass Christopher Reed. He only needs Reed to drop below 35 percent. That would make the nomination inconclusive and force the nomination to a statewide convention -- and the state Republican convention just happens to be Saturday, June 14. That turnaround is so fast that the GOP would probably need to reconvene another convention, as a recount could not be completed literally overnight.

As of this writing, Reed has 35.29 percent of the vote and a 413 vote lead over Eichhorn. In the 2nd Congressional District, where 35 percent is not an issue, Mariannette Miller-Meeks is up 109 over Peter Teahen.

As of this writing?

The reality is that all the votes aren't counted yet. The numbers from polling places rarely change after election day. It's absentees and provisionals that move.

Provisional ballots give a voter who isn't on the rolls for one reason or another a chance to cast a ballot and have their problem researched. Provisional ballot boards meet today to determine whether those should be counted. With election day voter registration now in effect, there are likely to be fewer provisionals than in past years. A typical case would be someone who requested an absentee ballot, but went to the polls instead, and didn't have the unvoted absentee to turn in. They would cast a provisional, and the day after the election the auditor's office would double check to make sure the absentee hadn't been sent in.

Absentee ballots don't have to be to your auditor's office when the polls close. They have to be postmarked by the day before the election, but can still be counted if they arrive in the mail later. For this election, the deadline is noon Monday, June 9.

Most of the ballots that haven't come back yet are from overseas. There have been more of those ballots in recent years thanks to the 2002 "Help" America Vote Act (HAVA), the "fix everything that went wrong in Florida" law.

Prior to 2002, overseas and military voters had to file a new request for ballots each calendar year. (Regular voters need to request absentees separately for each election.) But under HAVA and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), requests from the troops and expatriates are good through the next two general elections.

This means people who sign up intending to vote for president will, one day in April or early May, get an unexpected surprise in their mailbox -- a ballot full of little known U.S. Senate challengers. And a lot of those ballots, on which George Eichhorn and Peter Teahen are placing their hopes, are in trash cans overseas.

If things do get to a recount, the chances of reversal are slim. Just under 17,000 votes were cast in the 2nd Congressional District Race. In a 2002 state senate recount that had just over 17,000 votes cast, the final margin shifted by only three votes from the canvass.

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