When is a vote not a vote
When we try and encourage people to vote we always say the same thing.
'Every vote counts!'
And honestly, for the most part, that's been bollocks.
Sure there have been elections decided by a few or even a handful of votes but most haven't been settled by one vote.
Welcome to the Virginia House of Delegates in which recently the Democrats had a good night picking up 15 seats and taking control of the house.
It was a particularly good night for Democrat Shelly Simonds who won by one vote.
Until it was challenged and one vote was flipped from 'Spoiled' to 'Yancey' the Republican. Now we have a tie.
As a former Returning Officer I saw this case through the wonderful Andrew Morwood (@morwoo) who tweeted a picture of the ballot in question:
Now, my gut instinct it to say that this is a spoiled ballot. The rules are quite simple, has there been a clear preference to one candidate.
Well you could argue the voter had:
A - Wanted to vote for Yancey but mistakenly voted for Simonds so used a dash to show that they didn't want Simonds.
B - Wanted to vote for Simonds but mistakenly voted for Yancey so used a dash to show that they wanted Simonds.
C - Wanted to vote for Bartley (seriously) by showing a clear preference by leaving that ballot blank and that they did not like Simonds all that much.
So if you can argue three ways you tend to throw it in the bin.
Three Judges in Virginia disagree.
They haven't stated why but they did send us to a handbook which, amazingly, has numerous examples of what should and shouldn't be counted. Let's see if that clears it up. (Spoiler: it doesn't).
Firstly we find some good news for the Simonds team:
This advice suggests that a mark after a mistake shows a preference for the candidate with the additional mark. Win for Simonds.
Not so fast:
Good news for the Yancey camp it seems, as you could argue that Simonds has been partially scratched out.
So how have the judges been able to say this is a clear vote for Yancey. Well for now they are not saying but there is a page of advice that may show us why they have screwed up.
They have clearly judged the mark made on Simonds as an attempt to correct a mistake (as a mark to say whoops I did it wrong don't count it) but that goes against their own advice as to what that mark actually means:
According to their own rules that type of dash shows a clear preference. So again another win for Simonds.
For me there is just too much ambiguity on that dash, it's not enough to say 'no I don't want this person' and not enough to say 'Whoops I mean't this person.
It's a spoiled ballot. The voter an idiot.
Get me on the plane.