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Whither the undervotes?

New touch screen voting machines may boost Democrats in November

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You might remember that undervotes created a bit of a constitutional crisis in Florida in 2000. But the spotlight on hanging chads in that state helped focus a little light on the same problem in Georgia, a situation that was actually worse here.

In 2002, however, with touch screen voting machines expected to be in place throughout the state by November, undervoting should become a thing of the past. The question then becomes, Who will receive all those lost votes?

The conventional wisdom is that a greater percentage of undervoting -- meaning ballots not counted because of instances where, say, a voter picks two candidates in the same race, or a voter fails to clearly mark who he's voting for -- is done by racial minorities. That seemed to hold true throughout the state in 2000 where there was an undervote of 8.1 percent among majority-black precincts (80 percent or greater) using punch-card ballots and 7.6 percent using a standarized test-style ballot that is scanned by a computer, according to information compiled by Secretary of State Cathy Cox's office. Meanwhile, majority white districts registered 4.4 percent and 2.2 percent undervoting rates for the two respective types of ballots.

So if you run with those numbers and consider that blacks in Georgia overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, then Democrats should pick up more votes in the general election in November. Depending on how cynical you are, that might explain why election reform came to Georgia relatively quickly.

It won't, however, come quick enough to make a difference in races that are expected to be decided along racial lines and be tightly contested such as the Districts 13 and 4 races, which are centered in Clayton and Fulton counties and DeKalb County, respectively. In those races, candidates such as Cynthia McKinney, David Scott and Donzella James might expect a boost from a downturn in undervotes. To benefit from more accurate vote tabulation, these Democrats will just have to hope they make it to the general election.

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