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The Most Important Moving Part in Elections: The Voter

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[Image courtesy of nadajo]

I write a lot on this blog about election policy and election administration, but every now and then I am reminded of the importance of voters themselves in elections. The latest reminder comes from McAllen, TX where a sharp-eyed voter flagged a mistake that has bedeviled other jurisdictions but often goes undetected until it becomes a bigger problem.

Here's the story from the Monitor in Texas' Rio Grande Valley:

When a poll worker showed Betty Baier her ballot on Monday afternoon, the mistake was obvious.

Baier knew her home on North 45th Street was part of District 3, and her ballot should show the contest between three-term Commissioner Hilda Salinas and challenger Omar Quintanilla. After all, a member of Quintanilla's family lives on her block.

Instead, though, the poll worker checked Baier's address and showed her the District 2 ballot.

"We knew we weren't in District 2," Baier said. "And they didn't, obviously."

Questions from Baier and her husband, Neil, uncovered a serious problem with the Hidalgo County Elections Department's records.

Redistricting had shifted the boundary between District 2 and District 3, but 31 registered voters living near the intersection of Daffodil Avenue and North 45th Street had been assigned to the wrong district. If they had cast District 2 ballots, McAllen would have been forced to cancel their votes.

"And thank goodness for the one voter," said county Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon, adding later: "That was very astute. And very aware."

Mrs. Baier's awareness - and willingness to speak up - helped the county avoid the kind of wrong ballot mix-up which often occurs post-redistricting. When these mistakes go unnoticed, it can lead to a situation where the outcome in a close race is uncertain because it isn't clear whether everyone who cast a ballot was eligible to vote for that contest - or that everyone eligible to vote in that contest was given the right ballot. By spotting the problem, and waiting for the county to resolve it, Mrs. Baier gave everyone involved a much better chance of enjoying a successful election.

There are countless moving parts in any election system; sometimes, it behooves us to remember that in many ways the voter is the most important one.

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