Big ballot boo-boo: Osama for president?
Rensselaer County gaffe makes national news after absentee ballots misspell Barack Obama’s name
By: BOB GARDINIER, Staff writer
First published in print: Saturday, October 11, 2008
TROY — It could have been Ovama or Ofama. Or even Olama.
But with one “s” the Rensselaer County Board of Elections turned a single wrong letter into a national embarrassment Friday.Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s last name is spelled “Osama” on some 300 absentee ballots mailed out this week to voters in Rensselaer County hilltowns.
Is it a Freudian slip, intentional gaffe or a mistake? Voters are sure to have opinions, and one politician pointed out that the letters “s” and “b” are not exactly keyboard neighbors.
“Of all the letters to hit by mistake,” County Democratic Chairman Tom Wade said. “Unfortunately it is a mistake which negatively impacts our Democratic candidate for president.”
The typo was first reported Friday on timesunion.com, and quickly grabbed national attention.
“It was crazy, everybody across the country called,” said Edward McDonough, the county’s Democratic elections commissioner. He said calls came in from The New York Times, the New York Post, Daily News, Wall Street Journal and Court TV.
McDonough said he was one of the people who received a misspelled absentee ballot at home, and he didn’t even notice it.
Elections officials on both sides of the aisle insist a simple typographical error caused the national embarrassment. “It was a mistake innocently done,” McDonough said. “We catch almost everything.”
Republican officials were apologetic. “We have three different staff members who proof these things and somehow the typo got by us,” said Republican Commissioner Larry Bugbee. “We really apologize.”
On Row 1A, Barack Obama’s name is spelled Barack Osama — a name bearing an unfortunate resemblance to terror mastermind Osama bin Laden – but further down on the Working Families line it is spelled correctly.
The Obama camp took the controversy in stride.
“We’re glad officials are working to correct this error and we assume it won’t happen again,” Obama spokesman Blake Zeff said.
McDonough said the absentee ballots with the error went out to voters in Brunswick, Nassau, Sand Lake, Schaghticoke and Schodack. Three voters called to report the error.
By day’s end, officials decided to issue new ballots to all 300 voters. They realized some people might cross out the misspelling and write in the correct spelling.
“Election law is quite clear that any corrections done on a ballot will nullify the vote, so to be safe, we re-issued them,” McDonough said.
One Sand Lake resident who caught the misspelling, and who asked to be anonymous, was skeptical. “It’s a little suspicious and at least grossly incompetent,” the voter said.
District Attorney Richard McNally said the incident is unlikely to produce a criminal investigation.
“Both sides are saying this is an honest mistake, so unless we find out otherwise, I don’t see it going that way,” McNally said.
Rensselaer County is the only county in the state that prints ballots in-house.
“It saves the taxpayers a lot of money,” McDonough said.
Wade said it might be time to rethink that practice.