| Newton MA News and Politics BlogPlace your bets here.  How many votes will change tomorrow?

A couple of weeks ago we elected out new crop of City Councillors.  Two of those races were very close.  In Ward 5 Kathy Winter lost to Bill Humphrey by 34 votes, but that was 34 votes just in Ward 5.

In the Ward 6 at-large race Alicia Bowman beat Greg Schwartz by 30 votes, but that was a city-wide election.  It was 30 votes out of approximately 16,000 votes cast across the city.  Greg Schwartz has requested an official recount which will be conducted tomorrow.

Ever since the Bush-Gore recount that put the phrase “hanging chad” into our collective consciousness I’ve been really curious about the mechanics of how a recount works.  I’ve signed up as a volunteer for my friend Alicia Bowman for tomorrow’s recount so I’ll have an inside view of the whole process.

I went to a training class tonight – so here’s an abbreviated version of how it all works.  Tomorrow morning the paper ballots will be loaded into a vehicle and driven to the Cabot School with a police escort at about 8 AM.   The 16000+ ballots will be counted out into blocks of 50 ballots.  At about 9:30, the recount will begin.   Blocks of 50 ballots will be distributed to each table.  Each table will have a pair of election officials – a reader, and a counter.   Each official reader and counter may have a volunteer from each campaign shadowing them.  The reader will pull the first ballot out and read the vote.  Every ballot will by definition have two votes – Danberg, Schwartz, Bowman, blank or write-in.  The reader will read the two votes, announce them and the counter will record them.  The vast majority of ballots will be very straightforward and unambiguous.  Along the way though there will be occasional ballots with some level of ambiguity.  On those ballots, the reader will read his two votes.  On either side one of the campaign volunteers from either campaign  may raise their hand and say “I object”.  In that case, election officials and lawyers for both campaigns will descend, confer and render a decision about that ballot based on case law and precedent.

Going into this I was thinking how ambiguous can a vote be?  You fill out a circle beside the chosen candidate.

At tonight’s training they said the vast majority of ballots are 100% unambiguous but that you would be amazed at the variety of different ways that a specific ballot can be ambiguous.

  • Two votes and a write-in for Mickie Mouse
  • Candidate circle not filled in but written in instead “e.g Danberg”
  • No candidate circles filled in, but a candidate’s name circled with a marker
  • No candidate circles filled in, but a check mark halfway between two candidate’s names
  • etc

The most general rule that applies are that if there is an obvious intent by the voter than the vote is counted that way.  Of course, with the infinite variety of ways people can screw this up, there is an established body of case law to determine how each of these cases are handled.

So here’s today’s contest:   At the moment, pre-recount, Alicia Bowman is leading Greg Schwartz by 30 votes.  At the end of the recount, how many votes will that have changed by?

I’ll go first:  Based on absolutely nothing I’m going to say that there will be a change of 5 votes.

Closest guess wins Village14-wide acclaim for your political/statistical acumen and the beverage of your choice at the upcoming Bloggers Ball.  In the event of a tie, guessing the direction of the movement will be the tie-breaker.

What I’m most looking forward to tomorrow is resolving a mystery that I noticed on election night.  In virtually every city-wide race there were somewhere between 80 -150 write-in votes.  This is aside from the declared write-in campaigns.  When I asked people about this they’ve said yeah people write-in all kinds of crazy things.  I’m looking forward to cataloging the one’s I come across.