Minnesota Recount: The myth of the “undervote”
posted at 12:30 pm on November 13, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
Al Franken’s campaign now says that they intend on winning the election by pursuing the “undervote”:
An Associated Press analysis of votes in the tight, still-to-be decided race for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota shows that most ballots lacking a recorded choice in the election were cast in counties won by Democrat Barack Obama.
The finding could have implications for Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken, who are headed for a recount separated by the thinnest of margins — a couple of hundred votes, or about 0.01 percent.
About 25,000 ballots statewide carried votes for president but not for the Senate race. Although some voters might have intentionally bypassed the race, others might have mismarked their ballot, or optical scanning machines might have misread them.
We first heard about “undervotes” in the controversy over the election results in Florida in 2000. In that context, it made a little more sense. A significant number of ballots carried votes from down-ticket races but not for the presidential election. This set off an effort to glean supposed voter intent through checking for “pregnant chads”, those punch card selections that didn’t dislodge the paper chip for the correct slot. The operational theory was that the punch-card system somehow cheated the voter out of registering his/her vote, despite the decades of use that punch-card systems had and the clear instructions given to voters to punch all the way through the card and check their ballots when finished.
In this case, it makes no sense at all. First, we use optical-scan systems, not punch-card ballots, which are far simpler to complete. Second, the Senate race was not at the top of the ballot. Obama voters didn’t necessarily support Franken, as the chart below makes clear:
We saw this dynamic all through the election season. Franken consistently ran far behind Obama in Minnesota. Some Obama voters supported Coleman, and some supported Dean Barkley as an alternative. Some apparently decided not to support anyone at all. The notion that a significant difference in support between Obama and Franken amounts to some sort of malfeasance or frustrated voter intent is sheer fantasy.
Voters have a right not to cast votes in a particular race, which is why the optical-scan tabulators do not check for “undervotes”. In fact, “undervotes” do not exist; they’re a myth. When voters choose not to support a candidate, they don’t cast votes for the candidate, and if they don’t vote at all in a race, that’s intentional. If they intended to vote in a race, they had ample opportunity to do so. We Minnesotans spent a fortune on a balloting system that captures voter intent in the best manner possible, and the recount effort must not involve the wholesale second-guessing of that clear statement.