Thursday, September 20, 2007

State Board of Elections Backs Bagwell Findings in Springfield Race

The consolidated elections on April 17, 2007, had two valid write-in candidates for Sub-District 1 for the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority (SMEAA). Liam McDonnell and Judy Yeager were the write-in candidates for the autonomous eleven-member board that administers the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield, Illinois. Throughout the precincts in Sub-District 1, the voters cast their ballots for them, and the count reflected those ballots except one – Capitol Precinct 91. One of the top voting precincts in Sub-District 1 reported only one write-in vote through an absentee ballot. Local authorities appeared willing to accept zero write-in votes from voters who cast their votes in the polling place that day. Others were slightly less gullible.

Dr. Tim Bagwell has a Ph.D. in public policy and public administration from St. Louis University. His analysis of Capitol Precinct 91 indicated notable discrepancies between Precinct 91 and the other precincts within Sub-District 1: No one counted the write-in ballots.

Bagwell submitted his findings to the State Board of Elections. The board validated Bagwell’s analysis noting that it is clear that the judges in this precinct did not fulfill all of their statutory duties and failed to check for write-ins for this office. Bernard Schoenburg reported on the findings earlier this week for the State Journal-Register.

The SMEAA race has been plagued with
problems from candidates attempting to pass out of district signatures as qualifying for the ballot. and the SMEAA board’s attorney representing those candidates pro bono before the election board of Sangamon County and before the state circuit court. Incumbent candidates were also reported as having utilized convention center staff to file their candidacy paperwork.

Abraham Lincoln said, You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. Uncounted votes in small districts is uncomfortable. The loss of the people's right to have every vote count in every district is even more uncomfortable. Yet, Capitol Precinct 91 proves the reality. It would be easy to believe that simple errors and omissions occurred that led to one precinct out of 47 to fail to count the votes for a specific office. That is a comfort zone that evades the problem today. Taking action to determine how votes become lost is taking responsibility.

Any trained, experienced election judge knows that it is nearly impossible for such an event to occur without drawing some suspicion. When in doubt, they can always refer to the
instruction manual.

Illinois Election Code (10 ILCS 5/) describes how County Clerks manage most election proceedings. Election judges protect the rights of voters and administer the election procedures in the polling place fairly in accordance with the law. Qualifications for election judges are rather simple. Even a high school senior not yet old enough to vote can be an election judge. The training course and examination is mandatory within the preceding six months of an election. This required course covers the duties and responsibilities of election judges and consists of at least four hours of instruction and examination which tests reading skills, ability to work with poll lists, ability to add and knowledge of election laws governing the operation of polling places.

Most election judges have been awake 15 hours or more when the polls close at 7 p.m. It is the most active part of their day. After they close and lock the door, only the following people can remain in the polling place:

    a. Election judges assigned to the polling place
    b. Law enforcement officers acting in their official capacities
    c. Authorized poll watchers upon submission of valid credentials
    d. Representatives of the election authority
    e. Representatives of the State Board of Elections
    f. Representatives of the office of the State's Attorney and the Attorney General's office.
Election judges have step-by-step procedures to follow to account for every ballot on the Statement of Ballots Form (also Official Ballot Record): used, unused, damaged, defective, over voted, regular, provisional, and excess ballots. There are additional procedures for two judges, one from each political party, to remake all damaged or bent ballot sheets that the tabulating equipment cannot count. Some counties have the election judges in each precinct also count all absentee, military, and early ballots. It is all about maintaining the integrity of the election process.

Polling places are supposed to have an equal number of Democratic and Republican judges. Many do not. When that happens, the Majority rules to count the ballots, and the Minority tears down and cleans up until they sign and certify the tally sheets and other forms.

The more experienced election judges keep running balances of the ballots throughout the day and periodically compare their numbers with the poll watchers and the count on the tabulator. After accounting for all the ballots, election judges check each ballot sheet for three things:

  1. A judge's initials
  2. Any identifying marks
  3. Write-in votes
The judges check their numbers, compare them, cross-check their counts, verify their balance, and confirm them with the printed tape from the tabulator. It generates a minimum of four tapes: One copy shall be posted in a conspicuous place inside the polling place; two copies needs to be returned to the election authority and every effort shall be made by the judges of election to provide a copy for authorized pollwatchers or other individuals authorized to be present in the polling place that requested a copy. In addition, sufficient time shall be provided by the judges of election to the pollwatchers to allow them to copy information from the copy which has been posted. All the totals should match the final numbers of the tally sheets, and the election judges sign the sheets certifying accuracy. There are separate envelopes for everything:

    a. Voted ballots
    b. Defective ballots
    c. Duplicated ballots
    d. Write-in Tally Sheets
    e. Statement of Ballots Form
    f. Any other items as directed by the election authority.
    g. Many jurisdictions provide individual Spoiled Ballot envelopes for each voter that spoils their ballot.
Election judges are vital to the conduct of efficient and honest elections to which voters are entitled. At a minimum, three people missed the write-in ballots when no one else did. There is no way three people can miss including write-in ballots. Disregarding the Illinois Election Code has consequences. According to 10 ILCS 5/29-12, any person who knowingly (a) does any act prohibited by or declared unlawful by, or (b) fails to do any act required by, this Code, shall, unless a different punishment is prescribed by this Code, be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

A ballot is just a piece of paper until someone counts it. Election procedures exist to ensure a complete count at the close of every election. A mistake that everyone misses is highly improbable. The attorney general's office might agree.

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