Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Getting a proper recount in Virginia's 5th CD

As I wrote almost a month ago, Virginia's 5th Congressional District is still up in the air. The official results show incumbent Virgil Goode behind challenger Tom Periollo by about 800 votes out of about 300,000 cast.

But as I noted in that earlier posting, Virginia recount laws are very restrictive. Let's be precise:

  • If you've got a DRE, you look at the total tapes printed on election day. If they're illegible, you reprint them.
  • If you've got optical scan, you reprogram and retest the scanner to only count the one race in question, and rerun the ballots. If the scanner kicks out a ballot, you can examine it by hand.
  • If you've got traditional hand-counted paper ballots (not optical scan), you recount those.
Note that optical scan ballots aren't examined by hand, unlike in other places. The good news is that you don't have the mess currently going on in Minnesota trying to figure out what the voter was trying to do with some strange markings. The bad news is that if the machine isn't interpreting the voter's markings correctly, it's illegal to actually look at the ballot.

The good news is that this problem, which has been of great concern to those of us in the verifiable voting community for years, is now getting some press attention. The WashPost ran a story mentioning the recount, and published a letter to the editor (from me) on the topic. Today, the Roanoke Times published an editorial calling for a reform of Virginia's archaic recount laws.

So maybe there's hope to get some progress on fixing the recount problems this year.

In Virginia, the issues of election integrity have been truly bipartisan, because both sides have seen what happens when you can't do a recount: the 2005 Attorney General race (Republican candidate won by <0.02%), 2006 Senate race (Democratic candidate won by <0.4%), and now this race.


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