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July 26, 2006

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Brian

Well I'm not going to weigh into the 2000 controversy again. Suffice it to say, I've believed we should scrap the electoral college since I first learned about it in grade school (1987ish). But there is one thing I wanted to comment on.

"the outcome of the popular vote will never be known, since many places with undisputed polling place victories never counted their absentee ballots or their disputed votes "

My dad was a county elections commissioner in New York state for several years so thanks to him, I'm moderately familiar with election law. I know that in New York state, all ballots are counted regardless of whether they will affect the vote. I made sure to ask him this because I voted absentee the first six years I was eligible to vote because of university and travel. It occurs is because election results aren't officially until they are certified in their entireity by the state officials (either the state board of elections or the NY secretary of state, I forget which) so the idea of them 'not affecting the results' is immaterial. While I realize election law varies greatly from state to state, I'd be very surprised if officials could get away with just deciding not to count all the ballots.

Frank McGahon

Brian, I'd actually be very surprised if they did count absentee ballots if the total number of such ballots didn't exceed the difference between the candidates* - that would be routine practice in most places (including the last count under the STV PR system we have here) The purpose of such votes is to determine a winner by the rules of the election, not gauge the precise breakdown of the popular vote: which was the point of the original post (by a lawyer to boot!)

* which is surely of academic interest only.

Brian

Well that's what we do in New York state (NYS) anyway. You also have to bear in mind elections can serve other smaller purposes as well. For example, each county in NYS gets two elections commissioners. One Democrat, one Republican. It's based on the party affiliation of the top two finishers in the governor's race. In 1990, the Conservative candidate almost outpolled the Republican; if the Conservative had finished 2nd, a lot of GOP commissioners would've lost their jobs. Also, in order to be an official party recognized by the state, that party's designee has to receive at least 50,000 votes in the governor's race. This is extremely important because of the way state electoral law is rigged against smaller parties. If you're not an official party, you can only get on the ballot via the extremely complicated process of petitioning. As I said, I realize electoral law varies widely from state to state but these are two examples of why the procedure here is to count every vote always.

Plus, some states have laws that mandate a recount if the margin of victory is less than a certain percentage. Other states hold a second runoff election if no one receives an outright majority.

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