Editorial: Precinct vote totals should be made available quickly
For those who watch local politics closely, the precinct-by-precinct totals for an election can tell a very interesting story.
Did Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin run stronger in some areas of Cabell County than others? What parts of Huntington gave Steve Williams his lead in the mayor's race? Some residents just might want to know how their area voted.
State law says those precinct results should be available to the public immediately upon completion of the unofficial vote count on election night. But in 2008, former Secretary of State Betty Ireland recommended that county clerks withhold the precinct totals until county officials finish reviewing the votes and certify the election.
That is the policy Cabell County is following again this year.
The concern is maintaining the privacy of each ballot. As county officials review the vote, the identities of those casting provisional ballots are made public. By comparing the unofficial precinct returns with any changes in the final precinct tallies, it might be possible to conclude how one of those people voted.
Apparently, this was less of a problem before computerized voting. While we understand the importance of protecting the secret ballot, this does not seem to be a problem in other states, and West Virginia courthouses provided this information for decades without incident.
Moreover, it would seem that releasing the unofficial precinct totals is a good check against potential fraud. At least the public knows the basic breakdown of the election returns and can keep a watchful eye on the changes officials may make during the canvass.
We urge local and state election officials to put their heads together and find a solution before the next election.
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