Friday, April 8, 2011

Garbage In, Garbage Out

One of the iconic images of American political history is that of Harry Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the giant headline "Dewey Defeats Truman".  Somebody should now Photoshop Justice David Prosser in front of a screen capture of Thursday's Wisconsin State Journal homepage declaring "Kloppenburg Defeats Prosser".

It looked like Winnebago County was going to make national headlines again Thursday afternoon as more than 1100 "uncounted votes" were going to swing the Supreme Court race back in Prosser's favor--but then Waukesha County had to trump us by "finding" more than 14,000 votes.  It got me to thinking that maybe it's time we change the way we cover elections.

Usually, I scoff at "blame the media" excuses for snafus and people's personal problems--but in this case, I think the criticism is warranted.  Bob Burnell and I complain every year "why does it take so long to get the election results?  Don't they know some of us have to come back to work at 3:30 tomorrow morning?"  And every year we get a call at 8:30 pm on election night from someone wondering if we had results in yet on a certain race.  Thanks to technology, we have become an instant gratification society.  But we obviously are nowhere near advanced enough to get accurate election results immediately.

Adding to the confusion and the anger, is the fact that election night reporting does not stress enough that numbers reported that soon are UNOFFICIAL RESULTS.  There is a reason why the state only accepts certified Boards of Canvass results--and not what is posted on websites.  Mistakes are made, machines malfunction and sometimes ballots just don't register correctly.  And when that happens--and overall results change--half the voters think that something nefarious is afoot and the accusations of fraud start flying.

So, should we just forget about election night coverage of results from now on?  No.  But we should tone down the "WE HAVE A WINNER!!" type hype if we see extremely close races forming.  It wouldn't hurt to tell people "It looks like we will have to wait until we get the official results from the Board of Canvass later this week".  They say that anticipation makes the reward better.

All of that being said, I do still want to have a recount in this Supreme Court race.  Let's make sure that we really aren't dealing with a "Rouge Republican Clerk" in Waukesha County.  It's just too bad that we don't have safeguards in place to ensure that there wasn't double voting or inelligible people voting--but I guess you reap what you sow.

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