Friday, October 24, 2008

Recounts in the Federal Election

I remember in 2000 when there was a Federal election and an American election at much the same time.

In the US you saw this huge mess in Florida with vote counting and revelations of problems with how votes are counted through out the US. Enough problems that one election official said that it was unreasonable to expect the degree of accuracy the public was awaiting and that an error of 1% was not unrealistic.

In Canada we counted our election results in a few hours after the election with an amazingly high degree of accuracy. This was all by hand.

In 2008 we have a a number of ridings that are going to automatic recount, this is triggered when the win is by less than 0.1%. One other riding, Esquimalt Juan de Fuca, will also be recounted after the judge decided there was enough evidence of possible problems to warrant a recount.

In total there will be six recounts for this election. The average change in results will be a variation of less than 0.03%. In other words, there will be one error found per 3500 ballots. The people counting on election night in Canada counted to a 99.97% accuracy. To give you an idea of that scale, it is 2:30 hours out of a year. Nationwide in 308 ridings there were about 4150 ballots not counted correctly.

Most of the 4150 votes not counted correctly would have been because there was some question about if the intent of the voter was clear and if they left some sort of identifying mark on the ballot.

Where I was at the count, there was one ballot that came in front of me that could be questionable, the person seemed to have first have made a check mark (an acceptable way to mark your ballot) but then decided to make it into an X. In doing so, it looked like a 4 which would disqualify it. These are the sort of ballots that are the errors in the count.

In any close riding, there are no shortage of party scrutineers watching the count. In Victoria, where the NDP was certain to win, the Conservatives had numerous scrutineers at every count. I was one of five at my polling station. In a close riding the votes are seen by more than enough people to make sure it is accurate. My 13 year old son was also there as a scrutineer and he saw how accurate the counting is, how seriously people take it.

My whole point out of this is that in Canada we count very accurately on election night and recounts almost never make difference to the final result. Yes, I could see ways a party could influence the result by as much as 150 votes if your people really are assholes, but doing so in a close riding brings you the problem of all that being overturned in the recount and your party being brought into major disrepute if you did that.

The closest result was in Vancouver South where the Liberal was re-elected by 33 votes. At best I would see that gap close to 21 votes, it could also widen to 45 votes.
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