Commentary - No such thing as a perfect electionAs we come to the end of the U.S. Senate election recount in Minnesota, there is one fact that everyone must realize: There is no such thing as a perfect election.
By Kent Kaiser, Professor of Communication, Northwestern College
As we come to the end of the U.S. Senate election recount in Minnesota, there is one fact that everyone must realize: There is no such thing as a perfect election.
No matter how well-trained our election officials are, no matter how much voter education we conduct, no matter how easy we make our ballots, and no matter how well we build our voting machines, and so on, there is one variable that we cannot control: Human activity.
There will always be poll workers who make clerical errors. There will always be voters who misunderstand what they are supposed to do in order to vote legitimately. There will always be people who mark their ballots in unexpected and “creative” ways. And there will always be people who produce really screwed-up ballots that defy engineers’ attempts to create the perfect scanner.
That said, I think most Minnesotans would agree this election recount has demonstrated just exactly how very strong our state’s election system is, in terms of the access people had to ballots, in terms of the privacy that voters had at the polls, in terms of the accuracy of our voting technologies, and in terms of our overall election integrity.
In spite of some minor but nevertheless embarrassing glitches – a few votes lost and found, here and there – the final vote totals are remarkably close to those reported on election day.
The recount has done what it is supposed to do: It has provided confidence in the legitimacy of our election system. All Minnesotans involved in the process. especially the local election officials, deserve recognition for their excellent work before, during and after this election.
People might be hearing about some ballots that have been “challenged” by attorneys representing the two candidates. Many of these challenges are simply part of the ongoing political posturing process. Most of the challenges are frivolous. Anyone looking at the ballots would recognize quickly that the voters’ intent is usually pretty easy to discern.
The role of the State Canvassing Board is to look at these ballots and try to determine voters’ intent. Because so many are frivolous, that should be an easy task. In the end, there will probably be very few ballots requiring difficult decisions by the board and still fewer that will be declared uncountable. Consequently, the overall vote totals probably will not change much.
It is unfortunate that a few people will have thwarted attempts to ensure their votes counted by not following directions, by making mistakes on their ballots, and so on. Still, our election system is proving itself to have been pretty good. And, where there have been lapses, administrators are learning and making improvements for the future.
Still, one fact remains: There will never be a perfect election as long as humans are part of the process. Therefore, and as unsatisfying as it may seem, we can never have 100 percent certainty that we got the “correct” answer in an election as close as this one. As voters, we must have faith that all the people involved did their best and that we got the fairest result possible.
Certainly, one candidate and his supporters will be disappointed. Yet once the recount is complete, the losing candidate should recognize the excellence of our state’s election process, take a conciliatory stance, and accept the result.
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Editor’s note: Kent Kaiser is a professor of communication at Northwestern College in St. Paul and previously served as the communications and voter outreach director for Secretaries of State Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake Township) and Mark Ritchie (DFL-Minneapolis).