Election Commission accepts City Council recount, begins gearing up for giant task
Election commissioners voted 4-0 on Wednesday to accept a recount petition for the Nov. 5 City Council election, and they started figuring out some of the logistics of a task expected to take a week or two and use “much more than 60” paid election workers.
A two-week hand recount of ballots in 2001 cost the city $50,783 in today’s dollars, but that was for a 10-candidate race with 1,226 fewer voters. This is a 25-candidate recount, with separate, double-staffed tables needed for each one.
“This is huge,” election commissioner Ethridge King said.
“This might be two weeks. Also, in addition, we have to stop, do an election, finish up results the next day and then reconvene,” said the commission’s executive director, Tanya Ford, referring to the commission’s need to set up voting machines and count local results in the Dec. 10 special election to fill U.S. Sen. Ed Markey’s former 5th Congressional District seat. Because of that, even as the recount goes on, “This office will remain open. [It’ll be] business as usual here.”
The city has an ordinance against municipal work being done on Sundays, Ford said, but an exemption could be made for the recount – and working through Saturdays was certain. Finding dozens of volunteers who didn’t work on a political campaign this election season and can devote a whole week or even two for the recount, including Saturdays, might be considered a big task, but commissioner Peter Sheinfeld said he had been “deluged” already with calls from potential workers.
There is also a question of where to set up the dozens of recount desks needed. “It’s somewhat difficult to find a large enough location and to be able to have that location for a substantial amount of time,” Ford said. “We have a place in mind but need to make it concrete.”
The commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to set where and how the recount will take place. By law it has to start within 10 days of a recount petition’s filing, and one-term city councillor Minka vanBeuzekom filed hers at the start of this week after a Friday count of provisional and overseas ballots left her 13 transfer votes behind challenger Dennis Carlone, the final member elected to the council for the term starting in January.
Questioning the petition
She needed 50 signatures to support her call for a petition, and she filed 150. The commissioners said Wednesday that they certified all but seven of the signatures.
Carlone was represented at the Wednesday meeting by a former commissioner, Peter Sturges, and by campaign manager Lisa Mosczynski. Another winning challenger, Nadeem Mazen – who is 14 transfer votes ahead of vanBeuzekom in the Nov. 5-15 ballot count, attended as well, and all questioned the basis for her petition: “documented inadequacies” in the voting machines’ abilities to discern voter intent and breakdowns in at least two precincts’ machines on Election Day that could have affected a final count. (At least one computer’s memory card needed to be replaced, and there was at least one mechanical failure in a machine’s rollers, commissioner Polyxane Cobb said.)
“We’d like to know what the documented inadequacies are,” Sturges said. “We have not seen any documentation and are not sure what that’s referring to – or whether there were any inadequacies.”
As to the breakdowns, Sturges said, “there’s no indication that we’re talking about more than one or two ballots, and that wouldn’t change the outcome of the election … we don’t see exactly why the commission would go forward with a recount.”
He suggested that if a recount did take place, it should be the faster machine recount rather than the hand count requested by vanBeuzekom.
“This is not a hearing”
Cobb said she believed the “documented inadequacies” referred to problems recorded over the years from election to election, not problems specific to the current election, and vanBeuzekom confirmed that after the meeting, which she arrived to late after staying at an Ordinance Committee hearing to ensure it had a quorum. To Sturges, who cited the “huge request, a tremendous request made to the city and commission” by the petitioner, that put the burden on vanBeuzekom to make her case better that the outcome of this election could be changed by a recount. Mazen agreed again.
“Let’s be clear,” King said. “The law requires [the petitioner] to give a reason. But this is not a hearing. We don’t adjudicate those reasons in this process. You give a reason, you ask for a recount within a given time frame and you gather the signatures – and as a board I think we will have to fulfill that request. The bar is not very high for recounts, unfortunately.”
The form of the petition demands either a machine or hand count, and vanBeuzekom told the commission she hoped they would find a hybrid form that could save time, energy and money. But again the commission explained that the rules are the rules, and there is no hybrid form of count in them.
They did draw lessons for improved procedures from recounts in 2001 and 2009, though, and outlined for themselves and several people attending how they would take steps to ensure that the eventual recount followed the path of the original count Nov. 5, changing only when an actual change in voter intent was discovered. City elections use proportional representation and ranked ballots, and the “Cincinnati method” of counting those ballots can change the outcome of an election if counts aren’t done in the same order.