Vote count method should be changed

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 24, 2004

Another round of voting has come and gone, this time forBrookhaven residents.

Ward Four Alderman Bob Massengill was elected mayor lastTuesday, while Mike Jinks won the City Clerk’s post in the specialelection. They will fill the terms of two long-time officials –Mayor Bill Godbold and City Clerk Iris Rudman Smith — who retiredwith about a year left to serve.

Jinks assumed his new duties last week, and Massengill will besworn in Friday. We wish them both well and have every confidencein their abilities to serve the citizens of Brookhaven.

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While the election went off without any major problems, we stillare baffled by the vote counting procedure used during cityelections. Ballots are counted by hand at each polling place by therespective poll workers.

That’s not the problem. We believe in the fairness of those whoare placed in charge of all elections here, both city andcounty.

What seems odd to us is the method used — counting the ballotsrace-by-race instead of ballot-by-ballot. For example, 743 ballotswere cast last week at the Ward Four precinct.

First, the workers tallied all the votes in the mayor’s race.Then they started over with the ballots, counting the votes castfor city clerk, thus doubling their work.

Instead of handling 743 ballots, poll workers in Ward Four, inessence, handled 1,486 ballots. Evidence of that double-duty wasthe fact that vote-counting was not completed until after 9p.m.

This same process has been used in the other city elections inpast years.

Long-time City Clerk Iris Rudman-Smith, citing a poll workertraining manual, said the primary issue when using paper ballots isthat votes are read aloud. She said two tally sheets aremaintained, plus reading votes aloud allows observers to keep theirown running totals of results.

Rudman Smith said she knew of no prohibition against using theballot-by-ballot approach.

We hope some consideration is given to changing thevote-counting process before city voters go back to the polls nextyear. Adding the recently-annexed area to the 7,829 registeredvoters now on the city books could mean a long night for thosecounting and those awaiting results.

Maybe now would be time for city election officials to considerusing the optical vote scanner used for other elections. RudmanSmith said the optical scanner had been considered in the past, butelection officials opted to stay with the city’s traditional paperballots.

A year should be plenty of time to train city poll workers onusing ballots for the optical scanner. Most voters are probablyalready familiar with the system from casting ballots in county,state and national elections.

Rudman Smith acknowledged those issues. She added that thecounting system should be perfected to account for power failuresor other election-related problems.

We know that conducting an election is not an easy job, and wecommend all the officials and poll workers for helping things runsmoothly. We appreciate what you do.

But, with the city population about to take a big jump, we thinkit’s time to do away with counting city ballots by hand.