A single vote

The Ward 4 election for North Las Vegas City Council reminded apathetic voters that every ballot does indeed count. As it turns out, dentist Wade Wagner's one-vote victory over incumbent Richard Cherchio also offers a lesson in the importance of election integrity.

The council meets tonight to consider certifying the results of last week's municipal election. Mr. Cherchio had vowed to seek a recount before the Clark County Election Department announced Monday that an ineligible vote was cast in the Ward 4 race. A poll worker allowed someone who had identification with a Ward 4 address submit a ballot even though the resident was registered to vote at a Ward 3 address. The worker "erroneously thought the person was allowed to vote there because he had moved into the precinct," Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said Monday.

"It was a significant error that was pretty inexcusable."

Because ballots cannot be traced back to individual voters -- an appropriate way to conduct secret ballot elections, so voters never have to fear retribution over their choices -- there is no way of knowing with absolute certainty whether the ineligible vote was cast for Mr. Wagner or Mr. Cherchio. As a result, the council is not merely confronted with a close election. The validity of the election is in question.

The council cannot, in good conscience, vote to certify an election that might have been decided by an illegal vote. The city, not just Mr. Cherchio, has an interest in a recount. And should a recount reveal a one-vote margin -- for either candidate -- the City Council should hold a new election.

There can be no doubt about the integrity of any election result, no matter the magnitude of the campaign. If voters don't have confidence in their votes, they won't have confidence in their governments. That's a threat to democracy.