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Posted by on Nov 20, 2009 in Politics | 8 comments

Return of the Election Beast from NY-23

ZombieCat.jpgJust when you thought it was safe to step out of the ballot booth, the hotly contested special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District simply will not die. The latest ripple in the story is that a computer virus reportedly infected a handful of machines in Hamilton County.

Cathleen Rogers, the Democratic Elections Commissioner in Hamilton County stated that they discovered a problem with their voting machines the week prior to the election and that the “virus” was fixed by a Technical Support representative from Dominion, the manufacturer. The Dominion/Sequoia Voting Systems representative “reprogrammed” their machines in time for them to use in the Nov. 3rd Special Election. None of the machines (from the same manufacturer) used in the other counties within the 23rd district were looked at nor were they recertified after the “reprogramming” that occurred in Hamilton County.

This, of course, is setting tongues a’wagging across the blogosphere, even though the full hand count of the affected precincts, along with the mandatory 3% sample hand count in the rest of the areas and the nearly complete absentee ballot count still shows the race to be out of Doug Hoffman’s reach, though closer than initially reported. In fact, the New York State Board of Elections already conducted a review of the somewhat dubious new machines and found that they performed in a “very successful fashion.”

Still, some such as our friend Sammy at Yid with Lid are asking if this doesn’t taint the results of the entire affair. There should be questions being raised here, but not about shadowy conspiracies to put the wrong candidate in office. The Help America Vote Act was a great idea, and it’s accomplished some admirable things in various parts of the country, but in other areas its reach was too wide. We’ve been using lever machines to vote in New York for as long as I can remember,and you know what? We’ve had one of the lowest rates of “disputed” elections in the nation. They’re old, yes, but they work like champions.

The problem is, they sit fairly high off the ground and the machines are big, so even fully able but shorter voters can have trouble reaching the top levers. (In our precinct they still employ the high tech solution of having a plastic milk crate in the booth for vertically challenged voters to stand on.) And they do provide a challenge to people in wheelchairs. So some areas are now moving to these computerized machines, leading to the situation described above. One of our silly state legislators asked last year, “Couldn’t we just cut the legs off of one of them at each polling station and put it closer to the ground?” Such horse and buggy thinking was, of course, laughed off the floor.

We could not, however, leave the specter of scandal at a few malfunctioning machines, and as Sammy points out, Doug Hoffman has decided to blame ACORN (who else?) for his loss.

Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in this election says that he was forced to concede after having been given erroneous election results on Nov. 3rd, in particular from Oswego County. Oswego County’s election night results were off by over 1,000 votes. Hoffman claims that the “chaos” on which Oswego County chairs blame the errors and “inspectors who read numbers incorrectly when phoning in results… sounds like a tactic right from the ACORN playbook.”

This, of course, has the usual collection of whack-a-doos running around like their hair’s on fire and their pants are catching. What better way to explain the loss than a combination of the sinister forces of ACORN and the evil labor unions “mischief?” Strangely enough, when I checked ACORN’s web site for a list of their many offices in NY23, the only one in New York I could find was in Brooklyn. Suspecting some sort of error on the web site, I called down there to get the addresses of their North Country Centers for Electoral Corruption. The confused woman who answered the phone had apparently never heard of Watertown and asked if I needed directions on which bus to take to get to 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn. I hung up at that point.

And really… doesn’t ACORN tend to congregate in the big urban centers? Do you really think they have a lot of outreach efforts in places like Inlet in Hamilton County? (During the fall and winter their burgeoning population of 400 drops to around 150 as the summer vacationers leave town.) Let’s be clear here… ACORN has a ton of problems and I’m glad that Congress is cutting off their funding until if/when they can get their act together. But we’re talking Big Pine Country here. Most of these people still think of acorns as things that fall from trees and get loaded into slingshots by kids.

But I suppose all of this was inevitable. It’s become a mainstay of American politics for the losers to question the validity of any close elections. This is a way to undermine the legitimacy of the winner in the eyes of the public and we’ve been seeing it more and more since 2000. Even the election of Barack Obama, who finally won one of the fist fairly clear victories with an electoral majority since before Bill Clinton’s time, is now being claimed to have been stolen by ACORN and others by more than half of registered Republicans.

We’ll eventually get a final (and hopefully clean) count of all the votes in NY23 when the state election board certifies it. Of course, by then the popular legends will drown out any facts and figures and Bill Owens’ (likely very short) term in office will have this story as an asterisk on it in the history books.