23 August 2006

Bush Voting

I spent election night at the Region IV election headquarters on East Front St. in Nome. Our goal was to provide live results from the precincts in the villages in our listening area.

Well... it didn't work out. By the time midnight rolled around, we did not have any regional results to report on so we packed up and headed home. Paul, the news director, and I did manage to fill a fair bit of air time speculating on statewide results and talking about some of the other races. What was frustrating, though, was that we were listening to coverage from the Egan Center in Anchorage with one ear and they had practically called the race even before the 100 or so villages in Region IV had managed to report. For several hours last night I sat and watched a bunch of hard-working volunteers try to tabulate results so let's take a moment to talk about the challenges of counting ballots in rural Alaska.

First of all, there was all kinds of new machinery. From what election officials were telling us, the Diebold touch-screen machines were creating all kinds of headaches in the villages. Add to that, the three different types of ballots and there were a lot of results to report.

Second, there were a number of different races, from governor on down to state representative and the two ballot measures. Unlike urban Alaska, where you can just write down your results on a piece of paper and hand them in (I surmise), out here you need to phone those results in. It takes a lot of time to recite statistics on turnout, questioned ballots, absentee ballots, and then results for each of the number of candidates running for each seat. Then those numbers have to be double-checked and so on and so forth.

Third, let's talk about the phone. If you've ever made a call to a village in rural Alaska (even from a hub like Nome), you'll know the connection is never great. Most of the time, there's an echo and a delay and the volume is generally quite low. Add to this the fact that you might be speaking with someone for whom English is not a first language and that adds up to a long (and trying) conversation for each precinct. And when you've got nearly a 100, like you do in Region IV and a handful of people answering the phones, it can take quite a while.

I understand that the you can make some pretty good guesses based on urban Alaska's votes, since the majority of voters are there. But I was so frustrated last night listening to urban Alaska media sources essentially rendering the rural Alaska vote meaningless by calling the race and signing off before Region IV (representing a huge chunk of the state) managed to get its results together.

More on the election results another time.

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