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The Vote? Get Out!

The election ain't over until it's overdue

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On Dec. 8, Allegheny County's Board of Elections will certify the results of the Nov. 2 contests.

But more than a month after Election Day, some city voters have reason to doubt the results before they're announced.

 

Mina Jain, a 34-year-old part-time grad student at Chatham College, had never voted before this year. "I'm one of those people they talked about, the twenty-, thirtysomethings; they didn't know how we'd vote."

 

Showing up at her assigned polling place, Colfax Elementary, Jain was told her registration card couldn't be found. So she filled out a provisional ballot.

 

Hours later, a poll worker found her registration card. It had been misfiled because her name was reversed: Jain Mina. The poll worker left a phone message on Jain's home answering machine -- she could come back to the polling place and vote on the lever machine now.

 

"But there was no way I could do it -- I was on campus by then," says Jain, who didn't get the message until 11 p.m.

 

That same morning, her mother Odile Jain got off work as a night-shift nurse, volunteered at several John Kerry "staging areas" to drive fellow Democrats to the polls, and then drove herself to Colfax. She spied the demonstration levers outside the polling booth. There, Republican candidates occupied the top row. In the booth, she was determined to vote entirely Democratic, so she pulled levers only in the second row.

 

Turns out, the demonstration levers didn't match the real levers. She had voted for George W. Bush and the other GOP candidates.

 

"Then I pushed that red button. It was like a nightmare," she says, gasping even in the re-telling. The election judge, rightly, wouldn't allow a do-over. But it kills Odile to realize that Bush's tally will forever be wrong.

 

When she got home, she heard the phone message for her daughter. Realizing Mina was unreachable until past the poll's closing time, she drove back to Colfax and asked to vote in her daughter's stead. No dice.

 

For weeks, Mina and Odile Jain have dutifully called the county's phone number to learn the status of Mina's provisional ballot, punching in the ballot's nine-digit number, only to receive the recorded answer that her ballot either had not been counted or, a little ominously, didn't exist.

 

Finally, on Dec. 3, the county's Internet site for checking on provisionals took Mina Jain's number and answered, cryptically: "Counted because." Days later, it still says that.

 

"My daughter, she's totally cynical about the whole government process nowadays," says Odile.

 

Indeed, Mina says, the more research she does on provisional ballots (not to mention the Diebold electronic voting machines used elsewhere, which were manufactured by a company run by heavy Republican donors and lack paper receipts as a double-check), the more suspicious she becomes about election results.

 

"When and where did my voted get counted and is it effective after ... a month?" she asks.

 

While county elections chief Mark Wolosik did not return a call, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that only half the 8,000 provisional ballots cast in Allegheny County will turn into actual votes. Even if Jain's is among the lucky 50 percent to be counted, she can also now be counted among the apathetic, not to mention the apoplectic.

 

"Hopefully," she says, "I'll recover in four years."

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