Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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An estranged collection

by Dave Bretl - Walworth County Administrator

May 12, 2011

I haven't seen any official statistics on the subject, but based on countless conversations that I have had with middle-aged men, I'm going to say that 70 percent of men over the age of 40 have had their valuable baseball card collections thrown away by their mothers.

I realize that this may be a sore point to raise right after Mother's Day, and I want to make it clear that I am not blaming moms. In an era before iPods and X-Boxes, trading cards got a real workout. In addition to being occasionally run through the washing machine, they were often placed against the spokes of bicycle tires to serve as makeshift motors.

In defense of mothers everywhere, most of the cards probably looked like junk. The collections of younger guys often didn't suffer this fate. They bought their cards for the sole purpose of saving them until the end of time. Hermetically sealed in hard plastic cases, moms are less apt to mistake these collections for junk as they did when they threw away most of the world's supply of Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax rookie cards.

I wasn't sure what had happened to my own football card collection until my 14-year-old son unearthed it from the attic the other day. Always scheming for a way to make a quick buck, he was soon checking prices of comparable cards on eBay after securing my promise that he could keep the proceeds. As he shouted out ever increasing prices to me from the next room, I was beginning to regret my decision to give up the cards.

When I heard him say $300 for a Fran Tarkenton Giants card I got out of my chair. I was about to weasel out on my earlier promise when I grabbed the card and noticed that there was writing all over it. I perused the rest of the collection and remembered that, as a child, I had written on nearly every card. If a player was traded, as in the case of Tarkenton, I crossed off his old team and wrote the new one on the front. I added new statistics to others.

After what I can only imagine was a heartbreaking Packers loss, I actually drew horns on my Dick Butkus card. Realizing that all of my errant marks greatly diminished the value of the collection, my son soon lost interest in the project.

Having been involved in election recounts over the years, I can tell you that all of the stray marks I put on my football cards were nothing compared to what some electors do to their ballots. Many people I talk to have a hard time understanding how vote totals can change as a result of a recount. These folks usually have the image of every ballot being filled out clearly and precisely counted by machine. The vast majority of ballots, in fact, fit this definition. As is the case with any human enterprise, however, there are exceptions to the rule.

One question that often comes up is how it is possible that more ballots were distributed on election day than votes cast. I know the answer to this one from my own voting practices. I try to inform myself about the candidates, but when I don't, I don't guess. A percentage of folks must ascribe to the same philosophy. In short, people don't always vote for every office. Therefore, if 100 ballots were handed out to 100 voters and Candidate A received 50 votes and Candidate B, 40, there's no conspiracy. Ten electors, in this example, chose to vote for neither.

Like the kid in your class who would start filling in the little ovals on the Iowa Basic test before he was told to start, not everybody follows the rules. If the instructions say vote for one candidate, some people will try to vote for two. If the instructions say blacken in the oval, some people will circle the candidate's name instead. Since voting is a very private act, election officials don't "proofread" the ballots before voters run them through the machine.

When electors get creative, it is up to the Board of Canvassers to determine what their intent was. The board is charged with recounting votes and correcting any errors that might have been made at the original determination of the election results.

At the county level, the Board of Canvassers consists of the County Clerk and two qualified electors appointed by the clerk. To provide a further check, one board member must belong to a different political party than the clerk. Representatives of each candidate are free to observe the recount, look at the ballots and make their arguments to the board.

Tabulators and board members do their level best to sort it all out. In the case of the most recent statewide recount, these folks worked every day, including weekends, for no pay or, in some cases, practically no pay, to ensure the rules were followed. The entire recount process was open to the public. Although the current Supreme Court recount has been completed in Walworth County, I would urge you to attend a future recount. While it isn't always action-packed, I can guarantee that you will leave with a much better understanding of the election process.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.