What happened to all of the votes?

New York City Mayor Bloomberg blames fraud and a flawed voting system for skewed vote counts that showed no votes for Barack Obama in 80 New York districts.

Published February 20, 2008 10:28PM (EST)

Michael Bloomberg may not be running for president for the moment, but he isn't staying out of the election altogether. According to an article in the New York Post, on Tuesday the New York City mayor said he suspected "fraud" had distorted the unofficial count of votes in New York's Democratic primary earlier this month. The problem with the unofficial count? Inexplicably, Barack Obama did not receive a single vote in 80 of the city's election districts.

"If you want to call it significant undercounting, I guess that's a euphemism for fraud," Bloomberg said.

In one such instance, as documented by CBS, a machine reported a final tally of 141 votes for Hillary Clinton and 0 for Obama, though an official poll watcher stated that most of the votes cast were for Obama.

Recounts are now underway in the affected districts and it is still unclear whether the recounts could cause New York state's final delegate count to change.

As Ben Smith points out in a post on his blog on Politico.com, Bloomberg's allegations run contrary to what some New York political operatives assumed was the result of simple incompetence.

The Bloomberg administration isn't backing down from its charges, though. In an email sent to reporters Wednesday, Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said:

There are plenty of people arguing that the same error could have been made by mistake more than 80 times (and counting!), but the mayor is less sanguine. Certainly, if the system for administering elections was based on competence (and if the special-interest induced gridlock in Albany hadn't prevented the State from certifying new machines some time in the last 40 or more years), someone might have noticed that there's a problem where Sen. Obama apparently got no votes in areas where he clearly had a lot of support.

Contacted by Salon, Loeser said that because the vote counts were unofficial, no law had been broken and that the reason election officials do such checks is precisely to find such irregularities.

However, Loeser also made clear that that the real reason Bloomberg leveled the allegations was the mayor's desire to see the city's election system changed. Currently, both Republican and Democratic representatives must be present at voting stations in an effort to avoid fraud. But -- saying that this strategy was no different than if the Patriots and Giants had each flown in a few of their own referees to jointly officiate the Super Bowl -- Loeser reaffirmed Bloomberg's long-time desire to institute a non-partisan election board to oversee voting in the city.

"You can't create a fair system with referees from both sides, you create it with impartial administrators," Loeser said. "We should have replaced every voting machine in the city, many are 50 years old, but because of Albany's inaction, we're prohibited by the state from acquiring new machines. So, the system fails on many levels. Whether or not [the voting discrepancies] were accidental or deliberate, we certainly can't speak to. But the sham is the system that is built for unfairness and built for inaccuracy."

Update: Reader skylark points out in letters that there were also some New York City districts where, initially, no votes were initially tallied for Clinton. That's correct -- a review by the New York Times found a handful of districts where that was the case. That probably should have been in the post, but was left out by oversight.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Michael Bloomberg War Room