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Issue Date: September 2008


Glossary of Extremely Scary Election Terms


Erick Trickey
Just like hanging chads in 2000, obscure and frightening quirks in our voting system could decide a really close election. Here are the chilling phrases we hope we don’t hear coming out of Wolf Blitzer’s and Romona Robinson’s mouths this fall.


margin of litigation:
A lawyerly play on words: “margin of victory” meets “margin of error.” Results so close, lawyers get to fight over who really won.

residual votes: Like scraps of food left at the campsite for jackals to gnaw. A polite word for lost votes, plus races left blank. Includes double votes, stray marks read as double votes, faint marks the scanner doesn’t pick up, races left blank on purpose and by mistake. A major focus of recounts and lawsuits. Synonym: overvotes plus undervotes.

remade ballots: Ballots tinkered with after they’ve broken down, like reconditioned car parts. Not as reliable as the original. Created by elections officials to substitute for ballots the scanner won’t read. They have to interpret how the voter intended to vote — and candidates’ legal teams usually have their own ideas about that.

provisional ballots: What your ballot is called if it’s sealed in a yellow envelope because someone thinks you aren’t a real voter. Used when the voter isn’t in the poll book, doesn’t have ID, etc. Ruled on downtown, fought over if the election is really close.

outsourcing elections: An appropriately spine-chilling phrase for Rust Belt, swing-state Ohio: officials relying on voting-machine makers to help run elections because their technology is so complex. Actually much worse than calling customer service in India, because the guy with the accent will at least apologize for the inconvenience when the gadget his company sold you doesn’t work.



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