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Is it legal for a candidate to have access to ballots after the election?
November 4, 2010 6:25 AM   Subscribe

I just found out my local representative (who runs unopposed every year) looks at the write-in names under his on the ballots and then hires a private detective to investigate all of the people named in the write in line of the ballot. This sounds illegal to me as I'm pretty sure candidates shouldn't be looking at actual ballots. Aren't they supposed to be counted by the computers or poll workers?
posted by jihaan to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
While I agree it is unsavory, I don't think anyone can argue that the *results* of an election are private. And write in candidates count as people who lost the election.

As long as people can't find out who voted for whom, the secret ballot is safe.
posted by gjc at 6:40 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


What country are you in? Where I am in Canada, all candidates are allowed to have scrutineers (also known as poll-watchers in some countries) who observe the counting of the ballots. They don't get to touch the ballots, but they do get to see them.

Also I would expect that write-in candidates (if legible) would be reported in the public election results, so anybody could see that.
posted by teg at 6:44 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


In many anonymous electoral systems, the count can be scrutinized by concerned citizens and the candidate/their representatives. So yes, they can look at ballots. This ensures fairness at the count without compromising anonymity. The rules where you live may be different.

Since the results of the election must be reported, the names written-in will be reported anyway. The rules where you live may be different.

Where I live, this would be legal. (Depending on what the PI does next.) Where do you live?
posted by caek at 6:45 AM on November 4, 2010


This sounds illegal to me as I'm pretty sure candidates shouldn't be looking at actual ballots.

Who says they are looking at actual ballots? Can't they just look at the results list, like:
John Smith 5,000 votes
Jane Doe 3,000 votes
Martin Martinson 345 votes
Mickey Mouse 1 vote
Goofy 1 vote

No idea if write-ins are explicitly listed as write-ins, but it would be trivial to figure out who the write ins are as they wouldn't have been listed on the ballot...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:45 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Depending on where you are, the information contained in the write-ins is publicly available and doesn't even require looking at the actual ballots. These are technically candidates in the election, thus their names are public. Your local rep is just wasting his money hiring a private detective to look into them.
posted by proj at 6:46 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your local rep is just wasting his money hiring a private detective to look into them.

Agreed. I'd be more inclined than ever to write in names just to further waste his money, especially if he keeps running unopposed.
posted by jerseygirl at 6:51 AM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


N-thing that I don't see the problem here. Why should the identities of candidates receiving write-in votes be a secret?
posted by ewiar at 7:04 AM on November 4, 2010


Your local rep is just wasting his money hiring a private detective to look into them.

Maybe he is checking to see if they will be someone who might be a serious contender next time around. Seems to me this could easily backfire is someone wrote in someone who might be sensitive to be followed around by a PI (local newspaper headline "WHY IS REP X SPYING ON [POLICE CHIEF, FIRE CHIEF, LOCAL BANK CEO, BELOVED PASTOR, 80 YEAR-OLD KINDLY GRANDMOTHER, LOCAL HS HEAD CHEERLEADER]?"
posted by mikepop at 7:32 AM on November 4, 2010


Write in his mom.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:42 AM on November 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


If the physical ballots are like the ones we have here in washington, they dont' show the name of the voter, but use numeric codes that are not easily reversible to a name.
posted by nomisxid at 8:02 AM on November 4, 2010


Skeezy as all hell, but not illegal.
posted by azpenguin at 9:57 AM on November 4, 2010


"Why should the identities of candidates receiving write-in votes be a secret?"

Speculatively? Because anyone could write in your name (and have a few others write it in, too), in an attempt to make it look as though you were trying to put yourself forward for public office when you were not. Why would they do this? I'm not sure. But some people are not allowed to run for office (e.g. because of their jobs), so this could have repercussions.

Because someone who recieves a write-in vote need not have sought or accepted a nomination of any kind, I can see how exposing the names of individuals who recieved only a very small number of votes might be barred by a policy setting some minimium threshold (either a percentage or an absolute number of ballots).

Sorry for the hijack. Just thinking about how total transparency in this case, where the elector can write in literally anyone's name, might theoretically conflict with the privacy interests of the named individual.
posted by onshi at 1:41 PM on November 4, 2010


I would add that a policy reason for non-disclosure of write-in candidate names (below some threshold) might also be to discourage write-in candidacy in favour of the "structure" afforded to political contests by party systems. I wouldn't agree with that, personally, but it is another logical explanation. Many rules in electoral systems are in place for this kind of reason.
posted by onshi at 1:44 PM on November 4, 2010


While I can't speak to other states, in MI all valid write in candidates are listed in the poll results, so anyone (you, me, George-down-the-street, Sally-from-the next-district, etc) can find out who got how many write-in votes without even looking at the ballots. (Nobody other than the voter sees invalid write in candidates, unless there's a recount.) Now, hiring the PI to follow them around, that's skeezy.

(As a voter in MI, you can write in anybody you want for any position, but the only votes which get counted are those for people who have filed with the board of canvassers saying that they're running for the position.)

(nomisxid: I don't think he's talking about how the rep follows the voter, but rather follows the write-in candidate.)
posted by jlkr at 1:49 PM on November 4, 2010


I know someone who writes in someone ridiculous every time he votes, so when the results are posted he can be sure his vote was counted.
posted by sugarfish at 3:33 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


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