recounts and runoffs

These images from Minnesota Public Radio make me grateful that I'm not an election judge.  There are some examples — on both sides where the campaigns are grabbing at straws.  But there are also some where it's really hard to tell what the voter had in mind.  And there's also the issue of having someone who can't decide whether they're voting for Al Franken or the Lizard People determine the control of the U.S. Senate.

I have to say, these ballots make the Georgia idea of having a runoff when neither candidate gets 50 percent seem more reasonable.  Although I have a sneaking suspicion that the policy just might may have been instituted to make sure that a black candidate couldn't win if two white candidates split the vote.  Does anyone know which actually costs the state more (per capita), holding a runoff or manually reviewing all the ballots?

Of course, the efficient way to deal with multiple candidates is the preferential or instant runoff ballot where voters rank the candidates and then when someone is eliminated, his or her votes are redistributed to the voter's second choice.  It means that you can vote for a "minor party" candidate without feeling like your vote is wasted — and when my 5th grade class used it for our presidential vote in 1980, John Anderson did in fact win.

Australia actually uses this system in their parliamentary elections, and it seems to work for them.  Cambridge MA uses a version of it for city council elections where first they reallocate the "extra" ballots  of candidates who got more votes than needed.  That link indicates that they have moved to using scan cards for these elections — when I lived nearby, they did it all on paper, and you could hang out and watch them move the ballots from one pile to another.  I wonder what fraction of ballots are spoiled there — it's pretty confusing if you're not used to it.

One Response to “recounts and runoffs”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    The other thing that we have in Australia that I keep thinking you need in the US every time I read election commentary is scrutineers. All counting is done by independent people hired by the independent Electoral Commission (actually you need that too – fiercely independent civil servants who draw the boundaries and run the elections), but it is watched in real time by nominees from each candidate.
    In the old days, they were the source of the first information about the election, but now they keep the count honest. They watch and argue at the time with the counters if any vote is in doubt. The electoral commission has final say, but it has to help having a representative of the candidate watching and reviewing.

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