February 18, 2008

Obama might get another delegate or two in NY

Posted in Barack Obama, Elections, Hillary Clinton, voting, voting machines tagged , , , , , , at 5:23 pm by bluebanshee

Looks like the election results in New York will be revised with Barack Obama possible gaining in his delegate count.

Black voters are heavily represented in the 94th Election District in Harlem’s 70th Assembly District. Yet according to the unofficial results from the New York Democratic primary last week, not a single vote in the district was cast for Senator Barack Obama.

That anomaly was not unique. In fact, a review by The New York Times of the unofficial results reported on primary night found about 80 election districts among the city’s 6,106 where Mr. Obama supposedly did not receive even one vote, including cases where he ran a respectable race in a nearby district. http://tinyurl.com/38a6r5

The above report in the NYT caused much alarm across the country — with many folks suggesting that there was some chicanery on the part of Clinton supporters in her home state. In fact, the explanation offered by Doug Kellner of the New York State Board of Elections is much more plausible:

Sam Roberts’ report in this morning’s New York Times is really old news to any experienced New York City politico. At the close of the polls, the election inspectors manually copy the numbers from the voting machines onto the “canvass report,” which is prepared in triplicate. One copy goes to the borough office of the Board ofElections together with all provisional and emergency ballots. A second copy is maintained by the local police precinct. A third copy is used by a clerk at the local police precinct who types the numbers into the police department main frame computer, which is immediately available to the Election News Service, a local media consortium, who eventually receive the third hard copy of the official canvass report.

Everyone in New York knows that the election night numbers typed by the police clerks are very unreliable and filled with typographical errors. Most of the local Democratic clubs have watchers present at the close of the polls who record the numbers independently. In this particular race, most clubs had both Obama and Clinton supporters who freely shared their numbers. It has been my experience that the numbers collected by the local political organizations are much more accurate than the numbers distributed to the media through their election night consortium.

The NY Times did accurately note that in New York Clinton had the first column and Obama had the fifth column, with candidates who had dropped out in the second, third, fourth and sixth columns, who often did receive zeroes on the voting machines. Therefore, it was a relatively easy typographical error for the clerk at the Police Department to put a zero in the Obama column, which occurred in a couple of precincts. It has been my experience that almost all of the errors are police clerk typos, rather than transcription errors by the the election inspectors who prepare the canvass reports.

The silver lining is that because everyone knows that these election night numbers are filled with typographical errors, no one I know (except the media!) ever relies of these numbers. New York has a mandatory, 100% recanvass, which both election officials and the political candidates generally take very seriously, even when the races are not close.

Although I don’t have the exact percentages for this presidential primary, absentee ballots are typically 3.5% of the total and, in New York City, valid provisional ballots are about 2% of the total. It is extraordinarily rare to have any argument over the numbers ultimately certified because the candidates’ watchers and the board officials generally exchange their numbers a make an effort to reconcile them. The candidates’ watchers have access to the lever voting machines, which are removed to the borough voting machine facilities the day after the election, and may look at the paper ballots, during both the initial count after the election and the recount that takes place eight days after the election. Absentee ballots postmarked before election day are valid if received within seven days after the election.

The lesson here is to not rely on the first numbers published on election night but to wait till the canvass is complete. We saw this same situation in the New Hampshire primary where final results were corrected by the final canvass by election workers and later by the hand recount. In this instance Obama is likely to pick up a delegate or two in the final count.

Its not over till the fat lady sings canvass is complete.

Update: 2/21/08 — Well it looks like the canvass is complete and Obama has gained a total of 1,073 votes while Clinton’s vote total increased by 416 and other Democratic candidates lost 767 votes.  The reason for the change? — clerical error!  For details read the entire Newsday article at http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newyork/ny-bc-ny–miscountedvotes0220feb20,0,4200259.story


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