Essay: Elections aren’t perfect, and don’t have to be

This article is liberal commentary.

Washington’s 2004 governor election was decided by 129 votes after 2 recounts and a court challenge. I was an observer at both recounts and saw that nothing illegal happened. By way of background, Washington uses paper ballots counted by optical scanning machines. State law prescribes recounts in very close elections, otherwise candidates can request them at their own expense. There are two types of recounts, machine and manual. The latter is more meticulous, and more accurate because it counts ballots the machines miss.

I won’t go into technical details about methodology, but I’ll state unequivocally that the manual count wasn’t off by a single ballot, and couldn’t have been. The disputes were over flagged ballots and votes by 1100 ex-felons who voted under a confusing state law. After an election contest lawsuit provided by law settled those issues, the results were final, and the lingering disputes about that election became academic and radio talk show grist.

There are a lot of unintentional things that can go wrong with an election: Weather, voting machine problems, counting errors, misplaced and lost ballots, mismarked and damaged ballots, unsigned ballots and signature mismatches, faulty of voter list purging, ineligible people voting, to name some. Studies show deliberate voting fraud is extremely rare, but Republicans often inflate inadvertent errors into charges of “fraud” to promote an agenda. The GOP also wages massive assaults on voting rights, but I won’t go into this here, except to say there’s no practical remedy other than prevention for this.

Election laws set firm deadlines for finalizing results, so elective offices will be filled when new terms begin. It’s possible to leave an office vacant while a disputed election is resolved, as happened in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district in 2018, but in most cases election officials correct as many problems as they can by the deadline, then go with those results. There’s no legal requirement to solve every problem and fix every error before the election can be certified, but there is a legal requirement to certify the election by the deadline. This was the rationale behind the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision that halted Florida ballot counting in the 2000 presidential election.

You can see where I’m going with this. Most elections are run by honest and well-intentioned people, but accidents and mistakes happen, and error-free elections are rare. In large elections, when election officials have to distribute, collect, and count hundreds of thousands of ballots, a perfect election is next to impossible, and it’s unreasonable to insist on perfection. All the more so because the glitches and errors that routinely occur in elections almost never change results. The GOP’s $2 million election contest lawsuit in Washington in 2004 changed only 4 votes, which demonstrates how well the system works and how minor the errors are.

What in life is perfect? Criminal trials don’t have to be perfect, only fair, and a conviction won’t be set aside because of trial errors unless they tainted the verdict. Airlines don’t always fly on schedule; they do the best they can. Should a student flunk a test if she doesn’t get every answer right? Perfection isn’t possible most of the time, and people who demand it have ulterior motives and are using it as an excuse for not accepting what reasonable people would accept.

We likely will see such behavior on November 3 and after. It’s reasonable to insist on following the processes prescribed by law to determine winners and losers. However, we should shrug off whining about the election’s imperfections, because the election will be imperfect, despite the best efforts of everyone involved. The candidates aren’t entitled to a perfect election any more than a defendant is entitled to a perfect trial, and the law doesn’t require one. In our system, certifying the election ends all disputes, and we’re obligated as citizens to accept the finality of that result and move on from there.

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0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    One should expect and want some level of corruption in the process, it means there is something to steal. And it is unlikely we here in Washington state will top the events that happened in bloody Kansas during some of its elections before the civil war. Kansas makes a great tutorial for those wanting to steal an election.

    So yes I do think some small amount of fraud in our elections is a good thing, and does happen. Just don’t get caught.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    The fact you think something doesn’t make it either good or true.

  3. You are as corrupt as the political party you wish to steal the election #

    Stealing an election is a crime against American voters.

    Condoning the theft of an election for your favored candidate and favorite political party “to win” makes you just as corrupt as the person and party you want to commit the election crime.