Election oddities, anomalies and a word of hope


Vote for “Junebug,” or cast your ballot for “Iceman.”  They’re two of your choices on the Illinois ballot on November 2. But they’re not the only unusually named candidates this year. In Alabama’s 2010 primary, State Representative Thomas Jackson was challenged by another Thomas Jackson, so the incumbent had his name listed on the ballot as Thomas “Action” Jackson. And in the race for Alabama’s governor, candidate Robert Bentley—a physician who wanted to skirt the state’s ban on titles appearing on the ballot—legally changed his first name to “DR.” [Action and DR. could have been joined on the ballot by “Judge” Roy Moore and “Cowboy” Peterson, but the Alabama Republican Party ultimately rejected all of their proposed ballot nicknames.]

Unusual ballot names are just some of the oddities associated with elections. So, in anticipation of a long election night, here’s a sampling of a few to help you pass the time:

One candidate, three parties

In Delaware’s Sept. 14, 2010 primary for a seat in the state legislature, William McVay tried to run as a Democrat, a Republican and a Libertarian–all at the same time. Here’s how:  One-term incumbent Brad Bennett filed to run for re-election. Republican Beth Buzzell Miller filed to run against him. Then McVay decided to jump into the race. First, he signed up to run for the seat as a Libertarian, after he said the party went looking for candidates at their annual convention. But McVay wasn’t done there. He also signed up to run as a Republican and a Democrat, in an attempt to force Miller and Bennett into primaries. Unfortunately for McVay, he lost a court challenge, which ruled that he could not appear on three different parties’ ballots. But he’s still on the November ballot as a Libertarian.

A draw that ended in a “draw”

Nevada election law says that when two candidates tie, the winner is determined by the drawing of lots. Sanctioned methods are cutting a deck of cards, drawing straws, flipping a coin, or throwing dice. Right. That makes total sense in a state whose economy is driven by gambling. So, in July, when Andrew “Butch” Borasky and Carl Moore Sr. each received 381 votes in the primary race for Nye County Commissioner, they agreed to settle the election by flipping for high card. Borasky drew the queen of clubs, beating Moore’s 10, thus earning the right to compete in the November election.

One person, six votes

In this summer’s City Commissioner election in Port Chester, NY, everyone was allowed six votes. The six votes matched the number of seats up for election. Voters could cast all six of their votes for one candidate, two for one candidate and four for another, or any other split that they preferred. This unusual voting method is known as “cumulative voting,” and while it seems unusual, it’s a technique used often in corporate board and school board elections, and it’s perfectly legal. Here’s how Fair Vote defines it:

In cumulative voting, voters cast as many votes as there are seats. But unlike winner-take-all systems, voters are not limited to giving only one vote to a candidate. Instead, they can put multiple votes on one or more candidates.

Port Chester opted for cumulative voting after losing a Department of Justice lawsuit citing the town for unfair minority representation. The town could have chosen the more typical, district-based structure, but opted to retain an at-large structure and implement cumulative voting.

“Under cumulative voting”, says Fair Vote, “if a members of minority group work together and get behind a single candidate, “plumping” all of their votes on him or her, they can hope to get someone elected, even if they only make up a small share of the population.”

The plan worked well, exit polls showed that voters liked it, and Port Chester elected its first Hispanic city commissioner.

Run, but don’t tell

In the Pacific Northwest, getting elected to a Washington State Conservation District apparently is a big deal. This year, the commission had to change its election procedures, because of some odd problems it encountered in 2009. Reading between the lines of the new rules, you get a sense of some of the bizarre tactics candidates employed last year. According to a commission spokesperson:

“We had two unusual elections in the 2009 cycle involving unannounced, secret candidates. In one, an undeclared write-in candidate appeared to unseat the incumbent, but was later found to be ineligible. In another, the secret write-in candidate did unseat the incumbent. In a third election, the rumor of a write-in candidate resulted in a record-setting election turnout for that district. In all three cases, the conservation district had to scramble at the last minute to adequately serve the voters who showed up at the polls.”

This year,  anyone who wants to be considered for election has to declare his/her candidacy in advance and be vetted for eligibility. Lesson learned.

Hello, world: Welcome to democracy

For those who complain that voting on, say,  26 ballot initiatives is too confusing, stop for a moment to contemplate voting procedures in Burundi.

In the communal elections, each voter is given 24 ballots – each bearing the name and symbol of a different party – and two envelopes. In the polling booth, the voter puts her chosen ballot paper in the white envelope, and the rest into the black one. Exiting the booth, voters then put the white envelope with their chosen ballot paper into one box for votes cast, and the black envelope into another box, before having their thumbs marked with indelible ink so they can’t vote again. The number of black envelopes containing useless ballot papers (at any given polling station) have to match with the number of white envelopes to avoid cheating.

[Okay, now that I’ve read that description about six times, I think I’m beginning to understand it. I’m just glad I’m not a first-time voter in Burundi.]

The mess we call voting and a word of hope

In San Diego, candidates have to win two elections to get a seat on the school board. In Dallas, a candidate for State Representative pled guilty to tax evasion just days before the election, making her ineligible to serve, but remained on the ballot. In Cleveland in 2009, the primary election for county government took place the day after Labor Day, making the last day for postmarking a mail-in ballot a holiday on which post offices were closed.

A variety of words come to mind that can describe the US election system: hodgepodge, patchwork, potpourri, mishmash, crazy quilt—you finish the list. The only thing more confusing is our health care system. The heartening and downright amazing thing is that, despite its unevenness and deep flaws, our electoral system—while infuriating, exasperating and sometimes unfair—and despite the egregious example of the 2000 presidential election being hijacked by the US Supreme Court—still results in a regular, orderly and peaceful transfer of power. That, to me, is a phenomenon worthy of our participation, and of celebration.