Two court challenges in elections

After the November elections, the Virginia House of Delegates is delicately balanced with 50 Republicans and 49 Democrats, a big shift from the 66-34 majority Republicans had before. One last seat is even more delicately balanced because, after a recount, it had 11,608 votes for Democratic candidate Shelley Simonds, 11,607 votes for the Republican David Yancey, and one disputed ballot. After examining the ballot, a three-judge panel ruled that the voter’s intent was for Yancey, thus causing a tie. Here’s the disputed ballot.

Based on that decision, the board of elections was going to decide the outcome by a kind of lottery and that was to have been done yesterday. But Simonds has sued, saying that the ballot should be declared void because it had both candidates’ names filled in and that the other indicators that suggested it was meant for Yancey should not be relevant. The lottery has been postponed until that issue is resolved.

Meanwhile, Roy Moore has also filed a lawsuit challenging his loss to Doug Jones in the Alabama US senate election, alleging that massive voter fraud should require the holding of another election. His filing came just before the Alabama secretary of state John H Merrill was due to certify the election results this afternoon. Merrill has said that the certification process would continue anyway. Once the result is certified, Jones can be sworn in as a senator on January 3rd.

Moore’s lawsuit is highly unlikely to succeed (it cited ‘experts’ who have espoused various conspiracy theories) but you can be sure that he will file another lawsuit to try to prevent Jones from being sworn in, and that will fail too. His last hope is that his best buddy Jesus will step in and I too am puzzled why Jesus has not done so already. No doubt he is busy with all his birthday celebrations.

While the Simonds case has at least some credibility, the Moore case is totally unrealistic.


  1. Smokey says

    You can’t expect Jesus to step in now, he was born just a few days ago! Don’t you remember him lying there in a manger? All over town, even. No, Jesus can’t do anything until he’s grown up, and that won’t happen until Easter. He’ll be dead within days though, so he’ll have to act quickly. Timing is everything.

  2. says

    In trying to be internally consistent in the belief that most people should not only be able to vote, but have their vote counted, I would have to agree that could count for Yancey. (But I note Gillespie’s bubble is struck through like Simond’s, so I don’t find it to be a clear-cut case.) I note that the ballot fails to instruct the voter to go back for a new ballot in the event they make an error. Any good voter should know this, but it needs to say so on the ballot.

  3. says

    What really pisses me off about this sort of thing is that there are great techniques for auditable, accurate, fraud-proof elections -- the US and everyone else just refuse to use them. Why? It’s as if they want this sort of thing to be able to happen.

    (I’m referring to David Chaum’s patent portfolio for election systems. It might cost some government $20 million, or whatever, to license them, but -- so what?)

  4. John Morales says

    […] But Simonds has sued, saying that the ballot should be declared void because it had both candidates’ names filled in and that the other indicators that suggested it was meant for Yancey should not be relevant. The lottery has been postponed until that issue is resolved.

    That’s an arbitrary claim, but it may be lawful (the law is itself arbitrary).

    Clearly, since every other (R) has been selected, the indication is that the particular disputed choice is probably the (R) choice.

    In passing, a simple solution would have been to ask the voter what the intended choice was — but, presumably, voting is anonymised so this is not possible.

    And yes, the particular voting mechanism seems fraught; here in Oz, we put numbers in the boxes, and improperly-numbered votes are considered informal votes (they don’t count).

  5. rpjohnston says

    In order to count that as a vote for Yancey you need to either apply a rule inconsistently (strikethrough means yes for Gillespie, but no for Simonds), or doublethink the assumptions (it’s a straight Republican ticket and Simonds appears nulled, therefore Yancey was intended…except for the part where they nulled the TOP OF THE TICKET.) It may be somewhat pedantic but in matters of law pedantry matters, you’re not supposed to fly by the seat of your pants. Laws were created to provide clarity for these situations -- and that clarity is, if there’s ambiguity, it’s spoiled.

    But, my opinion is moot, because the judges let it stand. Sigh…

  6. Holms says

    I thought the law was very clear on that point: an improperly filled sheet is invalid. No having to infer the intent of the voter, just invalid it and move on.

  7. says

    That’s what I was thinking. It makes me wonder: 23,000+ votes and only one, single disputed ballot? There are absolutely no other ballots with the slightest inconsistency? If we’re going to seriously consider a ballot with two names, I wonder how many other ballots are suddenly back in the running.

  8. file thirteen says

    Whether Simonds or Yancey eventually wins out, it won’t reflect the desires of the electorate, which was split right down the middle. Any result that requires more decimal places of percentage accuracy than 50/50 is more of a coin toss to lady luck than a democratic mandate.

  9. says

    It’s really sad that the US can build these amazing war machines, like nuclear aircraft carriers, and amazing IT like amazon web services -- but they can’t build a decent standard reliable voting machine.

  10. anat says

    In Washington state ballots have instructions for people who wish to change their selection. The instruction is to strike through the entire line, including the name of the candidate, then make the new selection. I see no instructions for how to indicate such a change on this ballot.

  11. alanuk says

    It would have been very instructive to have offered the judges a “photoshoped” version of the ballot paper with the voters marks for all of the R & D candidates reversed. Would they have declared the Democrat the winner or would they have declared that the ballot paper was void?

  12. seachange says

    I run the local precinct here in California. We don’t count the votes themselves there’s a machine for that, but we do count and inspect the ballots to make sure one person one vote and to check for spoiled or ruined ballots.

    I’d say weird ballots are a lot more common than one in eleven thousand. I wonder what non-adjuciated ballots look like for them.

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