Counting Takes Time. Slow the F___ Down.

[Image via nydailynews]

That mornin’ I’m in my car
The kids cross Airport Boulevard to get to school
And that time of day people are in a little bit of a rush
To get to work and stuff
So, normally I sit there and run my radar (Whoop! Whoop!)
And if they’re speeding I’ll stop ’em
And write out a warning ticket
I’ll write S-T-F-D: SLOW THE F*** DOWN!

– Welcome To the Rock, “Come From Away”

Last Monday, I shared my usual pre-election viewing tips – and I closed with this:

Be prepared to be underwhelmed. Ever since the 2000 presidential election, we as a nation have held our breath waiting for a re-occurrence. Quite simply, it hasn’t happened; in the 18[!] years since election night 2000, I have had countless phone and email conversations with journalists looking for problems on Election Day—and nearly all of them have ended up with the journalist going away disappointed. Sure, you get the occasional razor-thin race that generates excitement like Washington State’s 2004 gubernatorial race or the 2008 Minnesota Senate contest, but by and large, people looking for another “meltdown” of the election system are still looking. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re still looking when all is said and done on Election Day 2018.

That didn’t age well, did it?

Now, to be fair, I don’t know that we are looking at a “meltdown,” but with Election Day not even a week old, the election process is under siege in several states due to the painful combination of close elections and high profile consequences. Three(!) statewide races in Florida are heading to a recount, Georgia’s Secretary of State race is heading to a runoff (and a battle is raging about the possibility of a similar election for Governor) and two statewide races in Arizona (U.S. Senate and Secretary of State) are razor-close and have see-sawed over the last week.

The current problem isn’t that these elections are close; even an avowed political non-junkie like me knows how evenly (and deeply) divided the country is. The problem is that the stakes are so high that we are starting to see the typical impatience with slow results morph into pressure for Election Night returns to be the “final” outcome, with any changes treated with suspicion.

To which I, your friendly neighborhood electiongeek, say: counting takes time. Slow the f___ down.

The goal of elections isn’t to get results quickly, it’s to get them right. In this situation, the old adage “cheap, fast or right – pick any two” applies in the extreme – and given that “right” is not negotiable, the remaining choice is between “cheap” and “fast”. Knowing what we know about the current state of funding in election administration, “cheap” seems to be the rule … which means final results have to wait. [I’m guessing election officials would welcome the funds to speed up the count, though I’m not sure they would want to spend it on faster counting.]

Money aside, there are other considerations at play:

  • in Florida, at least some of the delay is due to provisions allowing mail ballots from military and overseas voters to arrive up to 10 days after Election Day if they were mailed in time;
  • in states like Arizona and California, the large number of absentee and vote-by-mail ballots that arrive on and after Election Day need to be counted (and results can change); and
  • pressure on election officials to move to auditable paper ballots (which I support) means that counting ballots is no longer as simple as pressing a button and reading a screen – especially given how LONG those ballots are in some communities.

Mind you, some of the delays are maddening. Reports of ballots sitting in post offices undelivered raise questions about the efficiency of the process, and some election officials’ failures (e.g. Porter County, IN and Broward County, FL) to be fully transparent and demonstrate even basic understanding of the need for accuracy and timeliness certainly doesn’t help (and needs to be addressed through changes to policy, personnel or both). But this growing superheated rhetoric about how ballots are being “found” and that somehow Election Night leaders are the presumed winners and anything to the contrary is suspicious is a bad, BAD trend.

The counting process isn’t always pretty, and it clearly isn’t fast – but it’s working. Patience isn’t easy, but it’s important. Please, slow the f___ down – and stay tuned …

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