Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

Who Said The Election's Over? How You Can Still Vote

Your vote won't count, but you can still join the festival of electoral fun that's continuing even now in Minnesota, where the U.S. Senate race pitting the comedian Al Franken against incumbent Norm Coleman remains unresolved. The contest is so close that a few hundred disputed ballots may well make the difference by the time the state Canvassing Board is done resolving questions later this month (probably by the 19th). But don't leave the judging to the judges--join in yourself.

You can see many of the disputed ballots here or here. And both the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio allow readers to cast their votes on which scrawls, erasures, uncertain markings and awkward changes of heart add up to a real, discernible intent to cast a ballot for one candidate or another.

On this ballot, did the voter intend to select Coleman, or did he initially vote for Coleman and then think better of it and "X" out the selection?


To me, it seems obvious that this was not an "X-ing" out because the voter didn't replace the Coleman choice with a different selection. Eighty percent of readers agree with me on this one.

But it gets tougher.


Did this joker really want to "X" out Franken and instead go with his favorite write-in candidate, "Lizard People?" If so, where's the X for the write-in? Or was this voter just sprinkling his love for the Lizard People all around his ballot?

Readers agree that the intent to vote for Lizard People just isn't proven. But while a majority of readers say give the vote to Franken, I say toss the ballot. The voter has injected way too much doubt into the process--whether the intent was to make a joke or add a bit of commentary, the voter deserves to be taken about as seriously as he took the choice of senator--that is, not at all.

And finally it gets tougher still:


Was this confused soul trying to cross out his initial choice of Franken to switch to Coleman, or, as the Franken campaign rather less than honestly argues, was this an effort to underline the voter's great passion for Franken (which couldn't have been so great seeing as how he filled in the oval for Coleman as well)?

Wouldn't the confused voter also have X-ed out the filled-in oval for Franken if he really wanted his vote to count for Coleman? Not necessarily--the crossout of Franken's name might have struck the voter as sufficient. This does not seem as confused a situation as the last one, but it's hard to say with any certainty what the voter wanted. Readers split on this one, with 38 percent giving the vote to Coleman, but a pretty substantial majority of 58 percent saying if the marks don't compute, you must give the ballot the boot. I agree: By virtue of stupidity or lack of care, this voter has forfeited his right to a say in this race. Can the ballot.

The remarkable and encouraging thing about the reader judgments on both of those sites is that readers are apparently coming to this task much the way citizens behave as jurors--putting aside personal prejudices and concentrating on the merits of the issues at hand. How can we know this? First, there's no real pattern of decisions being made for one candidate or the other--something of a rarity in the highly partisan world of online political reader comments. Even more persuasive, the "right" decision--that is, the one that a politically neutral party would come to in the more clear cut of the disputed ballots--is most often arrived at by huge margins, pretty good evidence that readers are setting aside their personal views.

So, does that mean that the Minnesota canvassing board will do the right thing, whatever that turns out to be? Probably. Should all the disputed ballots be put to an online plebiscite of citizens? That would be pretty cool, but not very manageable or practical. In this country, we pick representatives to do most of the work of government for us, so Minnesota's duly selected canvassing board will make the final decisions, but how about setting up a system where the people get to play an advisory role? There's wisdom in the collective choices of the crowd--that's a key lesson of the Internet revolution--so why not have a state-run site that lets voters weigh in, with their decisions being given some advisory, though not conclusive, weight?

By Marc Fisher |  December 1, 2008; 8:30 AM ET
Previous: D.C.'s New Underground Jewel: Best In A Decade | Next: Maryland Police Play Spies--And Look Like Fools


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Actually, I am more concerned with the Virginia absentee ballots for our overseas military being thrown out.

The ballots were valid under federal law, but Virginia doesn't have to follow federal law and threw them out.

If the powers that be wanted to win so badly that they deny our military personnel the right to vote, well fine, they can have that power.

My power is my wallet. I won't spend money in VA in any way, shape, or form until this injustice is corrected. Online, brick-n-mortar, whatever. My money stays out of Virginia.

Posted by: SoMD1 | December 1, 2008 1:57 PM

"why not have a state-run site that lets voters weigh in, with their decisions being given some advisory, though not conclusive, weight?"

Hmm... isn't that what the Internet is already? It could be more formalized ("go to this site to comment"), but anytime we call, write, or, yes, email our representatives, that is what we are doing. When representatives or their staff read blogs, such as this one, they are also gathering crowd wisdom, even from the "highly partisan world of online political reader comments".

Posted by: pxl4 | December 1, 2008 5:05 PM

Marc Fisher, shame on you for voting to toss the ballot clearly marked for Franken but also bearing the write-in name of, but no filled-in or checked oval for, "Lizard People". There is exactly one darkened oval in that Senate race section of the ballot. That should end the matter of for whom the ballot was cast. Your sense that the vote should be tossed for a presumed lack of seriousness shows a serious disregard for the right to vote. Even assuming the voter waited in line for who-knows-how-long only to vote in a manner that some consider other-than-serious, so what? That is a voter's right. Plenty of people vote for reasons others may well deem bizarre, moronic, or arbitrary. If "not serious" votes should be disallowed, what bright line separates others from a similar fate? Who is to say what's serious or not? What a seriously slippery slope!

Posted by: alamaison | December 2, 2008 6:08 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company