Media Rely on Impossible Recounts

An NBC affiliate’s report that “if the results differ by 1 percent or less” in a Virginia congressional race, “the losing candidate can formally request a recount in court” gets David Swanson wondering (, 11/7/08) how this unquestioning language could possibly apply to the current voting process:

The interesting question is, if they do a recount, what in the world will the recounters do in order to maintain the charade that they are “recounting” something? I ask this not because I distrust the people doing the recount in any way, but because there simply isn’t anything to recount. Most of the votes were cast on DRE machines, electronic machines. Unlike voting on a paper ballot, voting on a DRE does not leave behind any item that can be counted or recounted. The same NBC-29 story explains: “If and when a recount occurs, it’s different every time…. Electronic ballots can be ‘re-counted’ by re-reading the cards that hold the results or just by going over the statement of results again.”

Even NBC was forced to put “re-counted” in quotes. The votes exist, if they exist, inside a machine. The machine spits out a number, and we all simply have to trust it. If the machine can be made to spit out a different number, that would be interesting, but it wouldn’t help anything, because we’d have no basis on which to guess whether the first or second number was closer to an accurate count.

Looking to “other factors [that] could come into play here, including late-arriving absentee ballots,” Swanson hopes that “this will help wake us up to the need for universal registration.” His reasoning is simple: “If we didn’t make everyone jump through so many hoops in order to vote, and simply let everyone vote in the same way that we let everyone have a Social Security number, then scary tales about Mickey Mouse showing up at the polls wouldn’t be taken seriously even on Fox News.”

See this article from the last presidential election in FAIR’s magazine Extra!: “A ‘Glitch’ in Democracy: Coverage of Computer Voting Problems Too Little, Too Late?” (5-6/04) by Karen Charman