Monday, November 28, 2011

A very important list should be seen by all

Today at 10 a.m., the Fayette County Election Bureau posted in its office the names of 31 absentee voters whose ballots will likey determine the outcome of the closest race for county commissioner in history.

The Herald-Standard newspaper made note of that fact in Sunday's editorial, "Democracy alive: Vote count being watched closely," -- which also noted that the list will be visible "for everyone to see," and that "anyone wishing to file a challenge (to an absentee ballot) must do so by Thursday at 2 p.m."

If the newspaper is truly interested in performing public service, and stands for transparency and open government, it should publish a list of those names. They certainly should have been available at last Wednesday's election board hearing, which was held specifically to determine the fate of those absentee ballots. It is so easy to print a list in the newspaper -- and it makes so much sense, given the importance of these ballots -- that we wonder why it hasn't been done already.

There is a reason that a list of absentee voters is supposed to be posted at each polling place on Election Day. That's because individual voters, or concerned citizens, can provide a check and balance to the system.

For example, Stutta Bubba here in the patch may go to the polls and see that her sister, Stella Bubba, is on the list of those who have submitted an absentee ballot. Stutta Bubba may find this interesting or appalling for any number of reasons: her sister Stella may have moved to Cleveland last year to live with her daughter, Stella may bebedridden in a nursing home and unable to recognize family and friends, Stella may be living next door to Stutta but has never voted in her life, or Stella may have died in 1982.

Thus, Stutta Bubba can challenge the ballot submitted in her sister's name. That absentee ballot would not be opened when the polls closed; it would remain sealed until after an election board hearing where Stutta Bubba, Stella Bubba and other pertinent parties would be afforded the chance to testify. The board would then take a vote on whether to accept or reject that ballot.

The problem with these 31 absentee ballots is that they apparently did not go through that normal process. According to the Herald-Standard, "there was a mixup at the Uniontown Post Office and a number of additional absentee ballots" were discovered. (At least that's what the county Election Burea has been saying; interestingly, we have yet to see anyone from the Fourth Estate call the post office to verify that fact. But hey, it's easier to just print what someone says without contacting the other side to let them defend themselves.)

(As a side note, we would love to see a reporter call Laurie Lint, the former director of the election bureau who was fired by Commissioners Vincent Vicites and Vincent Zapotosky, to ask her, "Did you ever forget to pick up or open critical mail in advance of Election Day?" We never heard about 31 absentee ballots not being properly handled during Lint's tenure.)

The problem is, the list of 31 names of absentee voters that posted in the Election Bureau at 10 a.m. today IS NOT available "for everyone to see." It is available only to those who are willing and able to travel to that office to look at it. Not everyone who may want to see the names of the 31 people whose ballots will make history will be afforded that opportunity. They may have to work or be in school. They may not be able to drive.

If the Herald-Standard and editor Mark O'Keefe really want to make sure that "democracy is alive and kicking in Fayette County," and that "everyone involved should be satisfied that the process has been above board" -- as stated in Sunday's sugary editorial -- then why wouldn't they want to do their part to inform the public to as great a degree as possible?

Printing the names is no big deal. These voters are at the crux of the most important local election in a long time. It should be done, in the name of democracy.

Hopefully O'Keefe and Co. sent a reporter over today to get this information. A word to the wise: Before dispatching anybody, we hope they made sure to double-check that all "Lohr" stickers have been removed from that "professional" emissary. Then again, perhaps they decided to hand some more out.

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