On Tuesday, February 22, at least 5 people called me to complain about what they thought was a large number of unregistered people voting at the mass meeting on Monday, February 21. They asked me if there was anything that we could do. I suggested that before anyone started making lots of noise, they should let me check the lists unofficially. I told them that I would let them know Wednesday. In speaking with Democrats whom I saw around town on Tuesday, some asked me about the reports that there were significant irregularities; I told them that I would check. After I had already agreed to do that, Meredith Richards called me with the same question; I gave her the same answer. By the way, it should not be surprising or evil that Meredith called; the process contemplates permitting appeals, and since when do winners appeal?
After Meredith called, Alvin Edwards called; I told him the same thing. It was important, it seemed to me, that we get some feel for whether this was a matter of 10 votes or 100 votes. Most people agreed that 10 votes wasn't worth worrying about, but that 100 would be. If the number of votes in controversy turned out to be 10, my very strong advice to those who called me was to not worry about the problems, and not to stir up trouble. It seemed wise to check quietly.
Tuesday night I checked every one of the 641 certifications against the voting list that we had. I could not find 50 names (it was first reported as 48 -- that was my error). I could tell that 9 of the 50 had recently moved and had simply voted in the wrong precinct, but I could not find the other 41 at all. The big problem precincts were Tonsler, where 7 of 41 (17%) were not on the registration list; Clark, where 9 of 56 (16%) were not on the registration list; Recreation, where 16 of 198 (8%) were not on the list; and Carver, where 6 of 70 (9%) were not on the list. In 7 of the 8 precincts, differences could have switched a delegate.
So while the number of ballots that were questionable would not have affected the order of finish in vote totals, they could have changed the outcome of the delegate count. Kevin Lynch and Meredith Richards were both so close to getting 51 delegates that it would only have taken a swing of a few votes in a few precincts to cause Meredith to be elected on the first ballot, to cause Kevin to be elected on the first ballot, or to see both of them elected on the first ballot in addition to Maurice Cox. In other words, the improper votes could have changed the outcome.
I reported this by e-mail to Alvin Edwards at 2:43 AM Wednesday. I spoke with Alvin by telephone at 7:30 AM, and we agreed to meet at 2:30 PM to talk about it and to figure out what could or should be done.
Alvin and I finished our meeting at about 3:45, I checked a few more things, and I called him at 5:00 to confirm what I had found. Alvin then decided to call an emergency City Committee meeting to present the findings to the Committee, and to ask what they wanted to do.
On Thursday, David and Joyce RePass came to my office to review the contested ballots. Late in the day, Sherry Iachetta, registrar of voters, agreed to help; I took the list of questionable certifications to her office and she went through both the files of new applicants and those on the computer. We were able to get clear answers on those 50 names. They break down as follows:
7 had been in the precinct all along; either I missed them or they aren't on the list that we had.
24 had voted in the wrong precinct.
7 were new applicants. In all 7 cases, their applications were received by the registrar after the mass meeting was held. Two of them appear to have actually been filled out after the mass meeting. One of the 7 appears to have a felony record that would disqualify him from voting.
12 were completely unknown to the registrar.
I reported these new findings to Alvin Edwards at 5:00 PM on Thursday. The meeting had already been called, and Alvin wanted to put the facts before the Committee for a decision about whether the Committee wanted to take any action.
Under the Party Plan, the City Committee retains control over the nominating process up to the time when things get sent on to the State Board of Elections. In fact, the City Committee is the ONLY group that has any power to investigate problems with the mass meeting, and the only group with any power to take action if significant problems are found.
In discussions with people since the mass meeting, a number of people have complained that we told people that they would be on the honor system, and that no one would check except addresses. That's not exactly what I said, but that's not the issue. At the University of Virginia, there is an honor system. That doesn't mean that no one gets prosecuted for a violation. If information comes to the attention of the professor that there is a possible violation, that professor is certainly entitled to find out what the facts are. I find it inconceivable that people would interpret our statement that we would put people on their honor (rather than check them at the door) as meaning that we wouldn't even investigate if there were complaints or suspicions. If there are complaints and suspicions, we do no one -- particularly the candidates thus chosen -- any favors by refusing to look into the complaints. If there is evidence of irregularities that could have affected the outcome (as there was), we do no one -- including the candidates thus chosen -- any favors by refusing to bring them to the attention of the Committee.
We brought the problem before the Committee. The Committee has done its duty of supervising the nominations process by deciding that the problems were not reason to disturb the process already in motion. Rather than being proof that the City Committee is conspiring to frustrate the will of the mass meeting, it should be seen as proof that the City Committee is willing to do its job. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.
I look forward to having 3 good candidates nominated tomorrow.
(electronic mail, February 25, 2000)