A few factoids about elections in Waukesha County, WI in 2004 and 2006 are getting more play than, at this point, they appear to deserve. It doesn't appear that too many people voted in 2004, or that there were actually more votes than ballots in 2006. It's not impossible, but it is far from obvious.
Summary meta: I'm not trying to shut down the investigation in Waukesha County (how could I do that, anyway?); I'm not trying to defend Kathy Nickolaus's record as county clerk; and I'm not trying to reassure people about elections in general. No matter what happened in Waukesha County last decade, the country has serious election problems. If you think it's objectively evil or counterproductive to try to figure out whether specific claims hold up, we simply disagree about that.
(An earlier diary presents some of my thoughts about the 2011 controversy.)
In the past 24 hours or so there have been, oh, a few diaries about the electoral reversal of fortune in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Like many posters here, I have seen nothing that leads me to believe that there was foul play in Waukesha County. ("Nothing to see here, move along" comments begin in 4... 3....) That doesn't mean that I'm sure that there wasn't -- and it certainly doesn't mean that I think Kathy Nickolaus and her Access database did a great job. Based on the evidence I've seen so far, however, it appears at least strongly plausible that the Waukesha County canvassing board corrected an egregious error in the unofficial returns.
That raises some excellent questions: (1) How could the error happen in the first place? (2) How could we possibly know what really happened -- how people actually voted? (3) What are the implications for election verification, not just in Wisconsin but around the country?
In this diary, I will discuss my present understanding of Waukesha, but the main point is to think beyond the present controversy to broader systemic issues.
From time to time I examine allegations of electronic election fraud. There’s no question that such fraud is possible: computers can yield incorrect results in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, the arguments for fraud in particular instances often are painfully naïve. Take the case of the 2010 special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts. Jonathan Simon of the Election Defense Alliance writes in "Believe it or Not":
Where votes were observably counted by hand, the Democrat Martha Coakley defeated the Republican Scott Brown by a margin of 2.8%; where votes were counted unobservably and secretly by machine, Brown defeated Coakley by a margin of 5.2%.
Simon doesn't stop there. He claims to address and rebut "the last-standing 'benign' explanation for the handcount-opscan disparity" (p. 5), concluding that the disparity "stands as an unexplained anomaly of dramatic numerical proportions" (p. 6).
This is silly. By all means Massachusetts should have provisions for checking the accuracy of its scanner counts, but Simon's alarmism about the Senate special election isn't supported by the evidence.
Tuesday's primary election in New York will be the first statewide election conducted entirely on optical scanners instead of lever machines. New York is the last state to abandon lever machines (unless a last-ditch lawsuit to keep them unexpectedly succeeds).
The transition has sharpened tensions among election integrity advocates in New York: some advocates support the transition to optical scanners, while others want to keep the lever machines indefinitely. I won't say much about that debate, because it is probably moot at this point. The main question now is how to manage the transition to optically scanned paper ballots. I think Precinct-Count Optical Scan (PCOS) is a good approach overall, but there are plenty of issues to deal with. Below the fold, I try to skim the high points.
Hari Prasad, the managing director of an Indian research and development firm and co-author of a technical paper detailing security vulnerabilities in India's electronic voting machines, has been arrested for allegedly stealing the voting machine that he and colleagues studied. According to the home page of Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Indian Elections (VeTA), of which Prasad is technical coordinator, the machine was provided by a local official for research purposes.
The Times of India reported that Prasad was arrested yesterday morning and "has been remanded has been remanded to police custody till August 26." (I don't advise that you follow the Indian Express link in Google News, as it ironically triggers a Trojan horse warning for me.)
Maybe they should have charged Prasad with stealing the emperor's clothes, too?
The South Carolina Democratic primary for U.S. Senate has attracted considerable attention. Here I want to address several particular claims that I've seen made repeatedly here on DKos and elsewhere:
- that surprise winner Alvin Greene didn't do better among black voters;
- that his opponent, Vic Rawl, overwhelmingly won the absentee vote;
- that there were dozens of mathematically impossible results (e.g., more Greene votes than voters).
As far as I can tell, these particular claims are wrong or appear to be wrong. Greene apparently did do substantially better among non-white voters than white voters; Greene appears to have won the absentee vote statewide; there are very few "impossible" results statewide.
Please note: This diary doesn't directly address the accuracy of the electronic count. South Carolina's voting machines provide no software-independent means of verifying the count. One can address whether the results are plausible, but not whether they are correct. So far the results seem plausible to me, but I'm addressing narrower questions here.
This diary assumes some background knowledge and ducks or grazes a lot of issues. I expect to update this diary with further details as time permits.
Some folks may have noticed a diary that ran in mid-January on a study that said that an "election verification exit poll" provided evidence that the 2008 California Prop 8 vote count had been hacked. The diarist said, "Just to clarify, this study is saying that in some places the actual votes that people cast differed from what was recorded by the state by nearly 18%" (emphasis in original). That is assuming, of course, that the "actual votes" matched the exit poll.
To me, the most remarkable thing about the study is that it concludes that Republicans were 23 points less likely to participate in the exit poll than Democrats. In a sane world, that result should sink most of the attempts to use exit polls as evidence that election results are "mathematically impossible." Of course, nothing is ever that simple.
Let me be clear: this isn't a strategy diary. I don't have time for that, and I think we're in the usual hand-wringing mode anyway. This diary compares Massachusetts town-level results for Obama in 2008 and Coakley last night to ask, more or less: where did Coakley lose? Did "the base" do her in?
Well, she lost everywhere -- but, in percentage terms, she ran almost as strong as Obama in the places where he did best. And turnout didn't kill her, either. It looks to me like the swing voters (or at least the swing towns and cities) swung against her. Follow me for a few pictures and numbers.
Five years ago yesterday, "georgia10" posted a diary called "Armando's Challenge, Or The Informed Citizen's Guide To The 2004 Election." I’ll explain that title below the fold. The associated 57-page document was soon retitled "Eye on Ohio" (links below), and it set forth the evidence that election fraud in Ohio had given Bush his reelection. As the introduction explained:
If you are looking for a smoking gun here, you will not find it. Instead, you'll read about a series of complex and seemingly impossible events, from voter suppression, to vote tampering, to possible cover-ups. It is the totality of the circumstances that compel, at the very least, a full-blown Congressional investigation into the matter. Is this enough evidence to cast doubt over the election of George W. Bush? Was Ohio really a "blue state" in this election? As you read, you'll realize that the weight of the evidence strongly suggests such a conclusion.
At the time, "Eye on Ohio" offered an urgent argument that Congress should investigate the 2004 election before (instead of?) sealing Bush's victory. Now it can be read to consider where election integrity efforts stand five years later.
This series has focused on election fraud myths among progressives; other people have ably addressed counter-myths such as the ACORN Marauders. But this week, John R. Lott Jr. launched a new myth about the Senate election in Minnesota that calls for a smackdown.
Lott has an interesting track record, but let's focus on the present. In a Monday opinion piece for Fox News, Lott commented:
Virtually all of Franken’s new votes came from just three out of 4130 precincts, and almost half the gain (246 votes) occurred in one precinct.... The Minneapolis Star Tribune attributed these types of mistakes to "exhausted county officials," and that indeed might be true, but the sizes of the errors in these three precincts are surprisingly large.... To many, it just seems like too much of a coincidence that Minnesota's one tight race just happens to be the race with the most "corrected" votes by far.
Lott knows how to evaluate whether these corrections are plausible. He just didn't bother. Let's be serious.
For the past few days, debate has raged over whether 70% of self-identified blacks in California voted for Proposition 8 (as the major-media exit poll indicates), what it means, whether we should care, etc. It's an emotional subject, and I don't hope to add much profound insight to the discussion -- but I'm presenting some data I haven't seen elsewhere.
I've spent some time over the last 24 hours mashing up preliminary precinct-level results and demographic data from Los Angeles County. If forced to guess right now, I'd guess that somewhere around 62% of black voters in LA County voted for Prop 8. I will show you why I think so -- and, very tentatively, tell you why I think it matters -- over the jump.
From time to time, Kossacks and others will cite Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s summer 2006 article, "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?", as an examplar of investigative reporting into election integrity issues. When Markos recently opined on the front page that "no Diebold trickery was needed to steal" the 2004 election, at least four commenters cited the Rolling Stone article, or Kennedy himself, to assert that kos was wrong. Trouble is, Kennedy's article is riddled with hyperbole, non sequiturs, and outright errors -- some of them bizarre. Kennedy could have written a solid review of election irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere; he just blew it. Over two years later, many people are surprised to hear that there are criticisms of Kennedy's article, so I wanted to walk through some of them.
(If you're more interested in election integrity than you are in RFK Jr. -- good, stick with that, and you can safely skip this diary. Just be wary about recommending Kennedy's articles.)