Cheaters never prosper

The analysis shows a very clean election in our latest readers’ poll

Illustration By Rick Sealock

Do you ever wonder how honest these “Best of” contests are? You drive around town, and you see restaurants proclaiming themselves to be the “Best” something, and all you can think of is their last district health report, which talked about food stored in the hallway, mouse feces and employees not washing hands after leaving the bathroom.

“Best what?” you ask yourself, “best place to catch a cough?”

And then you read about places that sell their “Best of” ballots, so that the business or individual who buys the most ballots can essentially win the contest.

Many observers also look at the winners and wonder how big the sample is or how sophisticated the voters are—after all, how can some chain restaurant win “Best Mexican food” when Reno is filled with independent, authentic Mexican restaurants. Well, that’s the answer in a nutshell. By definition, there are a lot of stores involved in a restaurant chain. They’re popular, or they wouldn’t exist. But popular doesn’t mean best, and fortunately for us, our readers seem to know that McDonald’s doesn’t make the best hamburger.

At any rate, this year we took steps to eliminate as much of the ballot box stuffing as possible while encouraging businesses to encourage their customers to vote. To do this, we limited the number of ballots that would be accepted at once—online, at the welcome window at our office, or in the mail. Also, we reserved the right to throw away ballots that were suspected of being a concerted effort to skew the outcome.

One business took the rules and ran with them. Regular as clockwork, they mailed in ballots in packs of five—as long as each of the ballots had a name, address and contact phone number and all the categories were completed in the same handwriting and ink, we accepted it. The same was true with a local rock band—a few submissions were removed for having different handwriting and ink within the same ballot, but there’s no way to determine that it wasn’t another band trying to get Band A disqualified from the contest, so we just threw away the suspect ballots.

Finally, there was one business that tried to bring in 105 ballots on deadline, at 4 p.m. on the last day. We accepted five ballots and returned the rest, even though there was no reason to suspect that the other ballots were in any way falsified. That was the whole point of making the rules.

This year, we accepted 431 paper ballots. We disqualified 47 paper ballots for reasons including: came in after deadline, more than one color of ink and/or handwriting, no name or address, mailed in more than five ballots in one envelope, completed fewer than 10 categories.

Compare that to last year, when 619 paper ballots came in and we disqualified some 341 ballots.

This year, we received 620 ballots online. Some 151 were kicked out because they failed to click on the link to verify their e-mail address. None of the e-mail-verified ballots were disqualified.

That makes the grand total 384 paper ballots plus 469 online ballots, or 853 total good ballots.

I don’t know how else to place this number in context, except to say that a few weeks ago in the very important Assembly District 24 Republican primary race of Jason Geddes against Holcomb Brooks, only 2,798 people voted. Or how about this: In the primary election Ward 5 Reno City Council race, Dave Aiazzi beat challenger Patty Melton by only 25 votes.

Is 853 ballots a statistically valid sampling? Hard to say. Time magazine’s Oct. 6 sample of likely voters in the presidential race had only 886 likely voters (and if they kicked anyone out for lying, they didn’t mention it).