What an interesting day we had here yesterday in The Daily Republic newsroom.
Actually, the day had its roots in the previous evening, Election Night. I was struck by the difference in the number of votes between the mayoral contest and the street referendum. Theoretically, those vote totals should have been identical, since every voter who resides in the city of Mitchell got a ballot with those two items on it and could only make one selection for mayor and one selection in the street issue. Yet there was a 407-vote difference between those two items in the total number of votes cast (there were 407 more votes cast in the mayoral race than in the street referendum).
I could think of only two explanations: either some voters mistakenly thought they could vote for more than one mayor candidate, and those extra votes were mistakenly included in the total, which seemed unlikely; or, 407 people were so confused by the convoluted wording of the street ballot issue that they simply chose not to vote, which seemed somewhat plausible.
Also Tuesday night, Craig Guymon, who lost his bid for a Mitchell school board seat, complained to our reporter Ross Dolan that the vote totals in the school board race didn’t look right. Guymon acknowledged that the perceived errors wouldn’t change the outcome of the race, but he thought some scrutiny was needed.
Tuesday night as we were winding down, I spoke to Tom Lawrence, our assistant editor and city hall reporter, about doing a follow-up story the next day on these issues. I figured the story would head in the direction of the wording issue, because I really did think the wording of the referendum was terrible and that the likeliest explanation for the difference in the vote totals was voter confusion and non-voting in the street referendum.
Tom came in Wednesday and called over to the Auditor’s Office, and all hell broke loose. He was told there were errors in the results — all the results, not just the ones we asked about — and that a recount (later termed a “second count,” since what’s happening doesn’t actually meet the legal definition of a recount) might be necessary. Most importantly, he was told the results of the election could possibly change.
Tom, knowing what a big story he had and not wanting to let it slip away, drove over to the courthouse to observe what was happening firsthand and ask some face-to-face questions.
This morning, the recount, or second count, or “the continuation of the process of counting the votes,” as Auditor Susan Kiepke tried to convince me to call it, is happening at the courthouse. I suspect the outcome will be anticlimactic, and that some numbers will change but the winners will remain the same. But we don’t know that for sure, and that’s part of what makes the story so intriguing.
Whatever happens, this is a huge story. Even if the results don’t change at all, the integrity of our election has been called into question. If the citizens in a democracy can’t trust the results of an election, that’s a serious issue. Not only does it engender suspicion of our government and the officials running our elections, but it also casts doubt on the results of past elections.
The announcement of the real results probably won’t be the end of this story. It’ll be interesting to see what fallout proceeds from there.