2 more votes! aunt sarah’s grapefruit story

A friend from college followed up on my civic-responsibility/bees-in-bonnets saga to ask about what the real results ended up being for the Amelia County, Virginia polling during the 2012 presidential elections. The results on the State Board of Elections site are still unofficial. I did notice that the number for Amelia has changed, though… by exactly two votes. The 2012 result (linked below), now reads 2,490 instead of 2,488. I take this to mean that someone at the State Board (sort of) took my point about how bad it looks to have duplicate counts two elections in a row.

2008 results for Amelia:


(Updated) 2012 results for Amelia:



This reminds me of once when I was in college; I went to an Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House with a couple of friends late at night. We hadn’t been drinking or anything, just out late and hungry. I tell this story a lot, so sorry if you have heard it.

I ordered a half a grapefruit, but when the waitress brings it to me it’s cut lengthwise instead of cross-wise. I search her face to see if she knows whether this is incorrect. Not for reasons of protocol, but for practicality. She shows no sign of acknowledgement. So I am forced to just dive in with, “Ehmm… look, I know this might sound weird, but… the grapefruit is cut wrong.” She looks at me like I’m a total jerk. “No, seriously, sorry, but. It’s supposed to be cut horizontally, not vertically.” (I had to stop myself from saying it’s supposed to be cut ‘at the equator.’) “Like, it’s way easier to eat with a spoon that way…you can’t… you can’t really do that when it’s cut…” [giving up]

She picks up my somewhat lopsided, longitudinally cut grapefruit and takes it back to the kitchen. When she comes back, she’s carrying: the other half.

That was my cue to shut up and go hungry. I could have just cut it into wedges at the table with a pancake knife and eaten it that way. I didn’t really want to take any chances, though, about what else besides being cut wrong might have happened to the fruit back in the kitchen.

In this case, regarding my voting office and the State Board, my cue to hush will mainly be the fact that the State Board of Elections actually called me (explaining what I had correctly interpreted from their bureaucrat code-switching). That was good of them. But yes, it does also occur to me that like this year’s ballot, my future absentee ballots will have my name written on them.


update on my being a pain in the ass from far away

After the Virginia State Board of Elections contacted me with their kind of gibberishy response yesterday, today came the following from the county where I vote and home of not just my parents, but also both sets of my grandparents and some cousins and aunts and uncles, Amelia County:

Ms. Whitaker,

In response to your inquiry to the State Board of Elections on Amelia County’s voting.

The election results you saw for Amelia County were the unofficial results posted November 6, 2012. The official results were posted on November 7, 2012 after the Amelia County Electoral Board did the Abstract of Votes. You will see that the results of President Obama as well as Governor Romney were changed.

Thanks for your continued interest in Amelia County’s voting results and thanks for voting.

Amelia County Electoral Board
Jane H. Shell, Secretary

What comes out of this is two things: I have never really lived in Amelia County myself, but I am part of its civic life; and two, Virginia gets my respect for responding to and acting on my email. (I already knew that Amelia was full of idiots, so that does not comprise a take-away.)

By the way, I don’t think I mentioned how I noticed Amelia’s mistake (they reported exactly the same number of votes for Obama in 2008 as they did in 2012) in the first place: it was on the Washington Post’s website. When you pull up results for this eleciton by county, they automatically show the 2008 results as a comparison.

virginia wrote me back

Further to the email I sent them yesterday expressing concern over the accuracy of vote counting in my home county, the Virginia State Board of Elections wrote me back. That in itself makes me feel better, although I’m not totally sure how to feel about the reply. Ahem, as follows:


I am in receipt of your concern as follows:
[quotes the email I sent yesterday]
Based on any election results, they will fluctuate during the canvass process as the electoral board meets to review the results and count any provisional ballots that were cast.

Right on… I think he is saying that State Board procedure permits my county to provisionally estimate numbers during the unofficial results phase. As I imagine it in practice, they are allowed to divide the ballots into Obama and Romney piles, look at the Obama pile and the Romney pile, see that the Romney pile is way bigger, and put in whatever numbers which more or less reflect that judgment.

That’s okay, sort of. I mean, the election was pretty close in Virginia. It could have been less close if my county had actually counted the Obama votes. I know that democracy isn’t exactly a Swiss watch, though. I guess the words “count” and “recount” aren’t meant literally.

Anyway, it is nice to see a concrete example every now and then of how these impressive large-scale efforts really work.

And yes, my county is small enough that they could physically hand-sort the ballots into stacks without them falling over.

gop vs grindcore vs paparazzi

I have been checking out some of the news analysis of why Mitt Romney lost, and a lot of it has to do with the Republican party. Basically the idea that pandering to a marginal minority in order to attract it runs the risk of letting that minority take over. The party has behaved as if these marginal minority views it welcomes belonged to the mainstream. Which in turn marginalizes the party.

That reminds me of a grindcore metal friend I had in college. I actually started hanging out with him a) because he’s awesome and really smart but also b) because I thought it was funny that he smelled bad, was really anti-social and listened to bands with names like Pig Destroyer. After a while of hanging out with him, I started trying to figure out why he liked grindcore. I concluded that he didn’t actually start out liking it seriously; he had started listening to it as a joke. But that the more he had entertained the joke and listened to grindcore, the more he had gotten into the music and started adopting its customs. In a self-aware ironical way at first, but in practice it became who he was.

I made a similar unintentional lifestyle choice myself, also in college. I was up in New York for the 2002 CMJ music festival, and my friend and I stopped at Mug’s Ale House in Greenpoint for a beer before heading to her apartment. Well I met this English dude and started talking to him, and it turned out he was a tabloid photographer. My logic: “Shit, that’s hilarious. I have to hang out with you so that I have a great story to tell all my friends.” To top it off he was 15 years older than me and had nine fingers. So one thing turned into another, I get back to school and the stories from the weekend are hilarious. A month or two later, around Christmas, I am invited back to New York to see him. Which, why would I turn that down? We go out and hunt Britney Speares together; he takes me to some really nice restaurants in Manhattan. Now I have more awesome stories to tell my friends back at school. And then I get invited back to New York in February. I start picking up on tidbits of the trade, like how a photo of Nicole Kidman treading waste-deep in snow will earn more than one of her at the park on a nice day. We talk about whether I can maybe help out with his business. And then I am basically dating him. And then I am really dating him. A nine-fingered, middle-aged, English tabloid photographer exiled in New York, who smoked a disgusting amount of cigarettes and also I think was a functioning alcoholic. Was my boyfriend. Because I thought it was such a great story to tell all my friends.

Bad political strategy.

oh god i sound like amlo

Check out this email I just sent to the Virginia State Board of Elections (and then forwarded to my BFF who was working on the Obama campaign in Prince William County, VA). I actually know the woman who runs my county’s voting office, so I feel kind of bad and really do mean that part about not wanting to get anyone in trouble. She’s a nice lady who goes to church with my parents, and she once proactively contacted me through them about getting my absentee voting materials in on time. However, at at the same time I felt that approaching her directly about it is probably too little too late; if this is published as Virginia’s official result it’s in their hands now.

Note that Romney won by a landslide in my county and obviously Virginia is decided for Obama, so my nerding out over this wouldn’t be intended to change anything other than hopefully cleaning up administrative practices. My boyfriend told me to just face it that everything is fixed anyway, but whatever, the State Board of Elections needs to keep an eye out for these things.

Hi there,

I was just wondering who to get in touch with about questions regarding vote count verification. I noticed that for my county, Amelia, the count being reported for Barack Obama in 2012 is exactly the same number that was reported for him in 2008 (2,488 votes).

That seems like a highly improbable coincidence, and I think it raises legitimate concern that Amelia should be asked to address. Is this something the SBE has checked or will look into?

2008 results for Amelia: https://www.voterinfo.sbe.virginia.gov/election/DATA/2008/07261AFC-9ED3-410F-B07D-84D014AB2C6B/Official/00_007_s.shtml

2012 results for Amelia: http://electionresults.virginia.gov/resultsPREC.aspx?type=PRE&rid=3545232527424045364&cty=007&osn=0

I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but I think this deserves some attention.

I appreciate your attention and look forward to receiving your reply.


Mary Claire Whitaker
Absentee Voter, Amelia County
[telephone number omitted]
[personal email address omitted]