I've been watching the Minnesota Senate fiasco...I mean recount. If you thought the Florida recount from the 2000 election was bad, Minnesota's has the makings of a whopper. I could go into all the ways that Al Franken screwed over Norm Coleman, but I just don't have that much space in a single blog post to do it.
Instead, I want to advance an idea that will most likely get me branded as a freedom hater, but would actually reduce the likelihood of something like what happened in Florida and Minnesota from happening again. And it starts with the whole notion of "voter intent."
When there's a disputed ballot in a recount, it can be legal for the counters to factor what they believe the voter's intent was in determining who gets the vote. Most people think it's a fair way to make sure the voter's ballot gets counted, and on the surface it is. But what would you say if I told you that it can be the most unfair way to count a vote?
Hear me out on this. Our voting system is one where the privacy of the voter is highly valued. Now, who would be the only person with any degree of certainty who could verify his or her intent? The voter. Unless you're going to set up cameras in each voting booth or make it so a ballot would be able to be matched up with a particular voter (which, I'm sure, would get the ACLU up in arms fairly quickly), then there's no way for a third party to really know what the voter's intent was.
That's where guesswork comes into play. In some cases, voter intent is easy to figure out. In others, you would have to be the Amazing Kreskin to figure it out. When you leave it open to interpretation, there is always a chance the person doing the interpreting will get it wrong, and the more confusing the marking of the ballot, the more likely it will be wrong. In short, by trying to ensure a voter isn't disenfranchised, a voter could wind up disenfranchised. Ah, sweet irony.
There is something else to consider. Voters can ask for another ballot if they mess up the ballot they have. All it takes is the courage to ask a volunteer at the polling place for assistance. If you mess up your ballot and you submit it, it can be rejected. A right to vote does not equate to a right for that vote to be counted if there is something that would cause the vote to be disqualified. Combine this with the problems inherent in trying to divine a voter's intent, and you have a major headache.
And I think I might have the Tylenol. What I propose is doing away with any laws that let third parties factor what they believe to be voter intent in the counting of ballots. Just count the ballots as is, and if a voter can't figure out how to mark the ballot clearly and correctly, their vote doesn't get counted. This way may seem rather draconian, but it's a step in the right direction to ensure there is a uniform standard. No more guesswork. No more partisan observers skewing their decisions for one candidate for another. No more legal wrangling. Count the ballots where the voter intent is clear, and discard the rest.
A radical solution, yes, but one that would work. Or at least, work better than what we have in place right now.