Recounting Democracy in Missouri’s 114th Legislative District

Recounting Democracy in Missouri’s 114th Legislative District January 7, 2019

Partisanship at its best serves the best of political purposes.

Election finagling is really very rare in the United States. President Trump’s various claims of millions of illegal votes stolen, illegally cast, added, or re-apportioned in 2016 are simply silly. Sore losers I’ve heard of, but a sore winner?

There are occasions, though, where exceptions are said to happen. The Chicago myth that 100,000 or so added Cook County votes in 1960 elected John Kennedy to the presidency (which on closer examination isn’t true at all)  or the mysterious 87 votes in Ballot Box 13 that first put Lyndon Johnson in the U.S. Senate (which very probably is true).

But the suggestion that American elections are widely subject to wholesale corruption is untrue. Overwhelmingly, American elections are thoroughly honest. Here’s why: recounts routinely confirm the outcome of the original count and almost never the reverse. There are some gaudy exceptions to this rule, but few.

Seventeen thousand plus ballots were cast in the Platte County, Missouri 114th legislative district in the 2018 mid-terms. Kevin Corlew, my state representative, lost reelection to a third term by 87 votes to Matt Sain, a first-time office seeker. The thin margin automatically triggered a recount. Kevin asked me to be one of his recount observers.

Corlew could have waved a recount, but the law permitted otherwise. He was so close, he told me, he wanted to be sure rather than wonder about it afterwards. As it happened, so did Sain, the winner.

These are two awfully nice guys, remember. Neither one reflects the negative ads churned out during their campaigns. Those were always from third-party advertisers, done without candidate knowledge or endorsement. That’s how most “dirty ads” – political pornography, really – can be traced, not to candidates but to unscrupulous participants who would just as easily do it to one candidate as to another.

Each candidate named three observers, each of whom signed an oath and a confidentiality agreement. The Board of Elections paid us $115.00 each, barely matching Missouri’s minimum wage.

Here is what impressed me:

*  The level of professionalism by the Board of Elections staff. Platte County, Missouri rocks (unlike a Florida county I’ve heard about).

*  The evident sense of comradery – that’s the best word I have – between the opposing teams of observers, and even by that of the candidates. If there is a Cold Civil War underway, nobody in the counting room got the memo. Frankly, I half expected glaring teams of opposing players game-facing one another. It was nothing like that. One of my opposing observers, without once asking me to switch parties, gave me a lead on a new allergy medication. The bipartisan misery of nasal drip will yet unite our Republic.

*  When confronted with a malfunctioning counting machine that jammed mid-batch, the election commissioner offered the candidates a couple solutions. The count could continue with a new machine, meaning it would pick up the count where the broken machine left off. That, however, might drop a vote or two for one or the other out of the batch. Or we could start over with a new machine and recount the entire batch. The two candidates both said scrap that machine and recount all the ballots with a replacement. One of the observers (the allergy lady) said it, “Whatever the outcome, we need an accurate count.”

*  There were always two judges (Red and Blue) handling the ballots. We observers were not permitted to even touch a ballot, but nobody said we couldn’t lean over the sorters and pant heavily. We were polite. The sorters made sure the ballots for recount came only from the 114th district, that illegal ballots (defaced or unmarked) were properly identified and eliminated from the count. Observers could object if they disagreed with the sorters but nothing objectionable arose.

*  The entire process was as tedious as it was thorough. It began at 9 am and concluded at 11:30 pm. Everyone just settled in and did their job, honestly.

*  The favored write-in was Mickey Mouse. Remember, an 87 vote margin? Mickey never came close to making a difference, but those who say their vote doesn’t count, they deserve Mickey Mouse.

*  From 17,893 ballots with an initial 87 vote difference in the margin, the recounted vote put Corlew up two votes (8,904) and dropped Sain down two votes (8,989).

I’m sorry to lose my representative, more than I can say. I supported his legislative work and he was always accessible. I was pleased and surprised when he asked me to be one of his observers. But I was equally glad to have also met Matt Sain, as well as his observers.

Partisanship, I believe, is important. It was partisanship that propelled our earliest national debates, from Independence to Constitution and beyond. The political parties that arose after George Washington’s first term still critique one another, check one another, push ideas forward where we seek refinement and resolution. Sometimes there is gridlock, but that too is often a good thing. Partisanship at its best, as loud and raucous as it is, best serves the best of political purposes.

No doubt, politics can be a brutalizing business. For a candidate it’s like doing the Hokey-Poky. You put your whole self in. If you lose, your whole self aches. That is exactly why some of the bravest people you will ever meet are those who have put themselves forward in public for civic office. I can admire that in any person, Democrat or Republican.


Browse Our Archives