EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 21, 2008

Our view: Recount won't change New Hampshire result


Way out on the fringe of the Democratic Party is a group of people who are convinced American democracy is in peril. Why? Because voting machines made by one company or another are not counting every ballot.

The reasoning behind this varies but usually involves a cabal of Republican operatives and their corporate lap dogs seeking to rig elections in their favor. Or, it's members of the Democratic Party "machine" trying to steal the election from the "outsider" candidate.

Pick your poison, it all centers around the mantra that we must "count every vote."

So that's why we have a partial recount of Democratic ballots underway in New Hampshire even though it is certain that the results will not change an iota.

The whole idea that it will is a fallacy that is destructive to Americans' confidence in the democratic process.

Sen. Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary among Democrats with 39 percent of the vote. In second place was Sen. Barack Obama with 37 percent.

But some vote watchers noted a difference in the ratio of votes for Obama and Clinton where ballots were hand counted compared to where they were tallied by machine. Thus was a conspiracy theory born. The machines are tipping the election to Clinton!

Enter Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, the standard-bearer for the loony left and himself a Democratic candidate for president. Kucinich demanded a recount in New Hampshire, where he received 1 percent of the vote.

Candidates who lose by less than 3 percentage points are entitled in New Hampshire to a recount for a fee of $2,000. Those who lose by more can still ask for a recount. But they must pay the full cost - 24 cents per vote. Kucinich has paid $27,000 for a recount of the vote in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties. If he opts for a full recount it will cost him about $70,000.

Note that Obama, who lost by 2 percentage points, could have had a recount for a $2,000 fee but has not asked for one.

Here's where we agree with Kucinich: The machines did not count every vote. Here is where we differ: It doesn't matter.

It is the nature of machines that they will make mistakes. Humans make mistakes as well. But machines make them at predictable rates.

Clinton tallied 112,251 votes in New Hampshire. Obama received 104,772 votes. That's a difference of 7,479 votes. If the ballot machines failed to count 100, 1,000 or even 5,000 votes, the result is the same.



"But," you say, "the results of the primary don't just declare a winner but apportion delegates." Still doesn't matter. As it stands, Clinton and Obama each received 9 delegates from New Hampshire. A few hundred votes either way doesn't change that.

For a democracy to work, there are certain minimal requirements on voters. One is that they mark their ballots properly. Machines will not count mismarked ballots correctly.

New Hampshire's ballot was simple enough - fill in an oval next to the preferred candidate's name. No hanging chads or "butterfly ballots" to confuse voters here.

Still, voters mismarked ballots. One recounted vote for John Edwards had the oval next to his name filled in - but also had his name inscribed on the "write-in" line. Another had two circles drawn on either side of Clinton's name.

That these ballots may have been miscounted is not a failure of democracy. It is a failure of people to make the minimum effort required of citizens of a democracy.

Recounts are a valid mechanism for confirming the result of extraordinarily close political contests. But when they are abused, as they are being here by Dennis Kucinich, they corrode public confidence in the electoral process. Kucinich is playing to his fan base, without a care for the damage he is doing to the country.

New Hampshire Democratic results

Hillary Clinton - 112,251 (39 percent)

Barack Obama - 104,772 (37 percent)

John Edwards - 48,681 (17 percent)

Bill Richardson - 13,249 (5 percent)

Dennis Kucinich - 3,919 (1 percent)

Joseph Biden - 628 (0 percent)

Mike Gravel - 402 (0 percent)

Chris Dodd - 202 (0 percent)