I don’t think anyone will disagree that today’s election is one of the most important elections in recent history. And the estimates of the number of people who will vote in this election should be record setting. Especially the number of people who voted early; this morning I have heard on the radio that there are 17 million registered voters in California and estimates are that 1/3rd of them may have voted early.
All this early voting has raised the question: will all those early votes actually be counted in the election?
While this statement could be construed as politically motivated for one side or the the other (for the record I’m an independent voter), it’s more of a question of technical procedure around how our voting system works.
As I write this, both the McCain and Obama campaigns are preparing celebration/concession parties for this evening. And that same scene is being played out on the national, state, and local levels for all elected officials in some form or fashion. In our instant gratification, data driven world, we expect to know who our President Elect will be in by the wee hours of the morning at the latest. And what usually happens is that based upon exit poll data and estimates, one candidate will concede to the other within the next 24 hours.
Could the winning candidate concede?
While watching a San Francisco news station this weekend, a San Francisco election official made a passing comment that they could be counting ballots up to Thanksgiving. The reason for this being that they have to count all in person ballots cast today first. Then they count the early voter/mail in/provisional ballots after checking them to make sure no one votes twice. With the high number of early voters, these ballots might not be counted until well into the near future. (Note: I have been trying to find verification of the specific vote counting process with regards to early voting for the past two days; After searching San Francisco’s voter website, Contra Costa County’s voter website (my home county), and California’s voter website the only information I have been able to find during my non-exhaustive search was California Elections Code Section 15300-15304.)
The problem with this is that the news organization will be using exit polls and estimates to try to call the vote one way or another for candidates tonight. They will be calling the vote with a large number of unknown votes that are locked away for future counting…the early voter ballots. Candidates might cede their contests based upon this potentially inaccurate estimates.
So I ask my question again: does my early vote count less than a vote cast today?
And I’m honestly asking this question. I’m not an expert in voting process. I have not be able to find an online source of information about the voting process that helps me answer this question. The main stream news media has not, from what I can tell, grasp this potential situation that we face–the previously mentioned local news program had the election official mention that early ballots are counted after election day and the ramifications of that comment went right past he news anchor.
If someone out there can provide details on this in some form or fashion, please do! Unfortunately, I don’t have endless amounts of time to invest in researching this…I’m busy trying to do my part to turn around the economy by creating value.
(Note: In an effort to figure this out, I posted this question to NPR’s Political Junkie: Ask Ken Rudin)