Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Countdown with Dan Maffei

Check out this week's Campbell Conversation, airing this Friday at noon and again at 4 p.m. on Saturday, and available now as a podcast here.  I'm talking with two folks with a ton of political experience in campaigns and political strategy--Christine Fix and Scott Armstrong.  We consider the elections in this listening region and across the state--why the outcomes were what they were, what races in particular surprised them, and what it all will mean for politics in the state in the coming months.  They also make some national predictions for 2012. 

One topic we spend a bit of time with in the conversation is the count and the recount in the Maffei-Buerkle race.  It's shaping up to be a full-blown affair that could run into December, and involve a bevy of attorneys.  Both Christine and Scott have been involved with past races that were very close, and Christine has been involved in a similar recount.  They draw on those experiences to assess the likely scenarios here. 

As a citizen, I left our conversation feeling better about the counting and recounting.  One concern I had about the process--as it's described in today's Post-Standard--is that individual ballots with clear intentions would be thrown out based on legalistic nit-picks.  Although each side can challenge votes for the other candidate, the commissioners serve as referees, and both my guests had very high praise for the two election  commissioners in Onondaga County, where most of the absentee ballots will be counted.

The newspaper piece also reports that Maffei's people are trying to get the entire set of ballots recounted by hand.  That's certainly reasonable and fits a "no stone left unturned" approach, but the fact that it's the Maffei campaign seeking this move suggests that, other things being equal, it sees itself as more likely to lose the race at this point.

The other interesting wrinkle is the report that Maffei's team has already started contacting individual absentee voters to ask how they voted--one possible outcome (as suggested by Ann Marie Buerkle in the article) is that it will then be better able to focus its efforts on throwing out the absentee votes for Buerkle, on the grounds that the signature on the absentee ballot application does not properly match the signature on file with the election commission.  Another possible purpose of this inquiry is to check and see if people who say they cast a vote for Maffei do actually have such votes recorded in the system.

Again, it's a "no stone unturned" move, but it also brings up a deeper question regarding the privacy of one's vote.  Voting is both a public and a private act, and the boundary between these two aspects can get complicated.  It's often considered impolite to ask someone how they voted.  Try it out on some strangers.  Some folks wear their votes on their sleeve, but others will look at you in horror if you ask them, particularly, say, in the check-out line at Wegmans.  At the same time, from a civic perspective, and thinking perhaps of the ancient Greeks, one might argue that we should own our votes, and be able and willing to defend them publicly.  But I'm not sure if that logic extends to an after-the-fact phone call from a campaign.

Update:  I've spoken with Keith Kobland at Channel 9 and he has told me that the Maffei campaign has told him that Republicans are also contacting absentee voters.  But so far (early afternoon), the station has received calls only from citizens reporting that they've been contacted by the Maffei campaign.  He gave me permission to report this information here.