Friday, October 10, 2008

Electoral Chutzpah

This week's act of chutzpah worthy of the Chutzpah of the Week award comes from Rensselaer County in upstate New York. The act was reported by Bob Gardinier, Staff Writer for the Albany Times Union (yet another institution of journalism that no longer seems to believe in reporters). The item is short enough to be reproduced in its entirety, thus avoiding an accusations of cherry-picking from the source:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's last name is spelled "Osama" on hundreds of absentee ballots mailed out this week to voters in Rensselaer County.

The misspelling, which elections officials on both sides of the aisle insist was simply a typo, is causing embarrassment for the county.

''No question this is an honest mistake innocently done,'' said Edward McDonough, the Democratic commissioner. ''We catch almost everything.''

''This was a typo,'' said Republican Commissioner Larry Bugbee. ''We have three different staff members who proof these things and somehow the typo got by us.''

Officials say the flawed ballots were sent to approximately 300 voters. On row 1A Barack Obama's name is spelled Barack Osama.

Is it a Freudian slip, intentional act or a mistake? Voters are sure to have opinions, and one pol pointed out that the letters 's' and 'b' are not exactly keyboard neighbors.

But even the county Democratic election commissioner is apologizing for what he calls a terrible mistake.

McDonough said the absentee ballots went out to voters in Brunswick, Nassau, Sand Lake, Schaghticoke and Schodack with the error.

So far three people have called to point it out, he said. Those people will get new ballots sent to them.

One Sand Lake resident who caught the misspelling, and who asked to remain anonymous, was skeptical.

''It's a little suspicious and at least grossly incompetent,'' the voter said. "If I crossed out the name and wrote in the right spelling my ballot would be invalid."

Cynic that I am, I basically agree with Gardinier's observation against it being a mistake, honest or otherwise. Whether the act was intentional or a Freudian slip is, for me, academic, given the hobby-horse I keep riding about the importance of editing; and, given that I really do not want this to slip through the cracks of "the usual 'nobody's fault' syndrome," I believe that this week's award should go to those with the responsibility (sic) of proofreading the ballots before they went into the mail. Since we do not know exactly how that editing was performed, the award should be shared by McDonough and Bugbee for their lame excuses. There has been so much attention given to this particular slur on Obama's name that this cannot be written off as an "honest mistake" (certainly not the "honest" part). Also, I am not sure I agree with the "solution" of sending new ballots only to those who complained. All of these ballots should be declared invalid on grounds of providing false information, and everyone who requested an absentee ballot should receive a correct one. Furthermore, given how sensitive we have all become about how taxpayers' money is allocated, the expense of replacing the ballots should be covered directly by McDonough and Bugbee, which is where the buck happens to stop in this case.

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