Coin Flip: MS Local Race Tied Unless Voter Returns with ID

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[Image courtesy of whatsupwhatson]

Every now and then – but regularly enough – the daily election news (in my case, courtesy of electionline) provides a story that simultaneously delights but also makes you think. Today is one of those days.

The Clarion Ledger:

Unless a lone affidavit voter shows up with a valid photo ID before next Tuesday, Glenn Bolin and Stephanie Bounds will draw straws to see who becomes Poplarville alderman.

In a special election runoff Tuesday, Bolin and Bounds each received 177 votes. But one voter showed up at the polls without a photo ID, as now required by law in Mississippi, and voted affidavit. That voter has five business days to bring in a valid ID, and could determine the election.

This story raises a couple of interesting points for me:

1. If you’re the lone voter, you’re in pretty decent shape … assuming you care who wins this contest, at worst you have a 50% that your favored candidate will win. If you want to make sure and drive that probability to 100%, all you have to do is show up with your ID.

2. That said, the voter in question may not want to be seen as the deciding vote and (assuming s/he has ID) could be hanging back to preserve his/her privacy:

“They won’t tell us who it is,” Bolin said Wednesday. “My thinking is that person is not going to come in, because they don’t want all the attention of being the one vote …

3. It isn’t even clear that the voter in question knows that s/he holds the deciding vote – s/he may think the affidavit ballot already cast was sufficient, and I can’t tell what procedures (if any) are involved in notifying a voter about the requirements for validating an affidavit ballot.

4. Another factor is the low turnout in the race, which was a runoff special election:

Bolin and Bounds were among four candidates in a special election to fill a seat vacated by former Alderman Randy Brown, who resigned after the State Auditor determined he had a conflict of interest with his job with the Biloxi Police Department.

Bounds led the first round of voting on Aug. 26 with 137 votes, with Bolin receiving 106, but no candidate garnered more than 50 percent to prevent a runoff.

Bolin said the runoff turnout was paltry, considering there are more than 1,600 registered voters [just over 22% of registered voters – ed.].

5. Finally, this story illuminates how “big stories” like voter ID and other election changes rarely make a difference in big contests, because of the sheer number of votes involved, but can have tremedous effect on smaller local races like this one. As Rick Hasen observed at Election Law Blog, “despite the fact that those on the left hype the suppressive effects of voter ID laws, in very close races ID laws could make a difference.”

So yes, it’s an amusing story and I’ll be curious to see if the mystery voter does emerge. But the issues it raises – if not earth-shaking – are still important to the folks who care about the day-to-day of election administration.

Stay tuned …

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