Dallas County residents were outraged this week when they found out their vote may well have not been counted in the 2016 election. There has been at least some local consequences for the Dallas County elections office’s failure to report 5,842 ballots, or 13% of their total vote. Demotions and reprimands will be doled out to several elections workers, though it wasn’t clear if Dallas County would fire anyone.
Secretary of State Paul Pate, whose office eventually found the error three months after the election, simply used it as an opportunity to push his new voter ID legislation. Pate released the following statement a day after the Dallas County scandal started getting major media attention (though eight days after the problem was discovered):
“One of the first components of my Election Integrity Act when I announced it last month was establishing post-election audits. I am asking the Iowa Legislature to give me the authority to conduct them. A post-election audit in Dallas County would have caught and fixed this problem. The Election Integrity Act is a comprehensive proposal aimed at modernizing technology, streamlining the process, protecting against human error and the potential for fraud, and instilling confidence in our electoral system. This bill would help ensure things like what happened in Dallas County never happen again.”
Give me a break.
Pate has been transitioning away from his previous statesman-like persona and into a more typical, cynical politician since the election, and this follows that trend. “What, my office majorly dropped the ball on a basic function? It just proves my political point that you need to give me more power!”
Please. Would more post-election audits be useful? Absolutely. But should the Secretary of State’s office have caught this without it? Most definitely.
One of the largest counties in the state didn’t report nearly 6,000 votes, about one out of every eight of their voters. How on earth does no one in Pate’s office catch that? Elections offices routinely predict turnouts, and certainly the Secretary of State’s office had ideas for what each county’s numbers would look like (especially since they were reporting out the daily absentee numbers each day). An easy way in the future to catch this doesn’t require any extra power – it just requires someone to do a quick comparison of expected to actual, and follow up with any counties that are way off.
And the way in which Pate’s own office discovered the problem undercuts his entire argument. They found the discrepancy when someone in the Secretary of State’s office noticed that the number of people who were marked as voted in Dallas County in 2016 was significantly higher than the number of actual votes for candidates reported from there. Why didn’t they just check that sooner?
To be honest, I’m even a little embarrassed that I didn’t catch the mistake. I had planned on doing a big post looking county-by-county at interesting turnout trend changes, but never got around to it. I have to imagine I would have noticed that Dallas County barely increased its turnout despite the county’s big population increase.
But then again, it’s not my official job to make sure every ballot gets counted. That’s Paul Pate’s, and he didn’t do it.
And that may be the problem for Pate going forward into his reelection effort in 2018. Republicans like him love to push voter ID laws in part because it polls well. Unfortunately for voter rights’ proponents, it takes longer to make the argument that restrictive laws are intentionally directed at specific communities to depress their turnout in unconstitutional ways than it is to simply say, “I have to show my ID to fill a prescription. So why not for voting?”
Now there’s a much easier to understand narrative in his reelection race: Paul Pate is the guy who missed nearly 6,000 uncounted votes in one of Iowa’s largest counties.
If Iowa really cares about “election integrity,” then maybe we just need a new Secretary of State that actually gets all the ballots counted.
by Pat Rynard