Discerning the Voters’ Intent

Discerning the Voters’ Intent

Not being a candidate, and not being too heavily invested in the outcome of any of the various primaries and school board and judges’ races, I didn’t awake this morning in either the ecstasy of having romped over my opponent or the agony of seeing all that hard work (and other people’s hard-earned money) expended for naught.

What caught my attention this morning was the razor-thin margin in the race for the Democratic nomination for state Senate District 19. State Representative Darryl Rouson claimed victory over state Representative Ed Narain, but with just three score votes separating the two candidates (a microscopic 0.16% margin of victory), a machine recount is pending.

Odds are, the machine recount still will leave the two very close, close enough to trigger a manual recount of the “spoiled” ballots, those that either show an overvote (where the voter appears to have voted for two or more candidates in the race) or an undervote (where the voter appears not to have cast a vote in the race). Each of these records (thank goodness we have hard copy of voters’ choices!) will be carefully examined by a few pairs of human eyes to determine the intent of the voter.

Those of us who have been around for a couple of decades can’t help but picture rooms crammed with reporters and lawyers watching intently as members of the Canvassing Board tried to determine whether or not the perforations on a particular “chad” had been partially ripped by a poorly punched stylus.


Today, it’s often much easier to discern the intent of the voter who was rushing through the ballot while balancing a baby on his or her hip and didn’t get enough ink in the bubble of their preferred candidate. Or the voter who started to bubble one candidate, then stopped and completed the bubbling of another. Or bubbled one, then drew an X through that bubble, and bubbled another.  Or left a smudge of chocolate or grape jelly on an otherwise blank bubble. Or . . .

“Dad, can’t they just request a new ballot if they mess up?” my daughter asked.

“Yes, Daughter . . . yes they can. Often, they just don’t.”

Discerning the voter’s intent . . . what a noble ambition!

American political campaigns always have been full of chicanery, false accusations and outright fraud. Votes have been bought, stolen, lost, ignored, miscounted and even been prevented from being cast. We may have found new ways to do it (like hacking into electronic voting machines or databases), but both the ambition to steal an election and attempts to achieve it are not new.

Such nefarious activities reflect our greatest character flaws and our weakest human moments. Lust for power. Greed. Treachery. Hatred. Prejudice. And simple but powerful arrogance.

Winning, strangely enough, really isn’t everything. Even in an election year where, at the national level, both sides seem to perceive an existential threat to the Republic, our Founders’ revolutionarily complex theory of government is likely to flex its remarkable power.  It will restrain the worst in our leaders, at least in the short run, while we, the people, figure out who we really are and who we aspire to be.

Things may not be good for America or Florida or [your county here] for the next couple of years if Candidate X wins. Mistakes may be made. Worse, men and women of evil intent may get their hands on some of the levers of power.

There are so many levers, however, in so many different places, that true consolidation in the hands of a nefarious few is difficult to achieve, especially in the short run. And we voters have a penchant for making sure that power is divided, if given even the slightest provocation to do so.

One could say that’s because we can’t make up our minds.

I say it’s a statement.

With due respect to the elected leaders from both of our major parties, I think the voters are saying, and have been saying, that neither party has it right. There’s some good in each of the major parties (and in most “third” parties). There’s also some junk that needs to be thrown out . . . both policies and people.

The challenge isn’t just winning an election. It’s governing in the aftermath. And that requires the wisdom, insight and humility to recognize that the other side has some good points, too.

That, at least, is what I discern as the intent of the electorate.

Will our candidates and elected leaders discern it? They can . . .