OK

The natural inclination when you see a headline "Error and fraud at issue as absentee voting rises," in the New York Times, is to click on it. Imagine my surprise when the story seem to undercut the headline by pointing out that absentee balloting actually has a massive disenfranchisement problem.

And the one example of supposed absentee ballot fraud cited, occurred during a Florida school board election, involving 80 ballots in total and just 60 questionable ones out of slightly more than 1,300 votes overall in that election.

Follow me below the Fleur de Kos for more details on why this is classic concern trolling under the guise of reportage:

First, I should clarify that I mostly blame the news editor or anyone else responsible for composing a headline that not only is misleading, but also one that is the result of sleight-of-hand because it is comparing a single Florida school board election to next month's Presidential election. In some areas though, the writer did deliberately try to muddy the waters by attempting to conflate voting by mail and absentee balloting.

The reporter, Adam Liptak, did a decent job at the beginning of the piece, explaining that 20 percent of all votes next month will probably be absentee and that potentially more than 20 percent of those who voted by absentee ballot don't ever have their vote counted.

In the last presidential election, 35.5 million voters requested absentee ballots, but only 27.9 million absentee votes were counted, according to a study by Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He calculated that 3.9 million ballots requested by voters never reached them; that another 2.9 million ballots received by voters did not make it back to election officials; and that election officials rejected 800,000 ballots. That suggests an overall failure rate of as much as 21 percent.

Some voters presumably decided not to vote after receiving ballots, but Mr. Stewart said many others most likely tried to vote and were thwarted. “If 20 percent, or even 10 percent, of voters who stood in line on Election Day were turned away,” he wrote in the study, published in The Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, “there would be national outrage.”

This could be problematic in the nine swing states. According to Liptak, 18 percent of votes cast in those states four years ago were by absentee ballot, with those numbers most likely to increase next month.

I have to criticize Liptak for his conflating. Maybe his editors asked him to do both, and instead tried to confuse readers. I don't know, but vote by mail has worked very well, especially in Oregon where more than 80 percent of eligible citizens voted in 2008.

Not only that, he never specifically mentions Oregon at all other than a throwaway line about how four Western states exclusively vote by mail.

Even worse was how he inserted a misleading paragraph about voting by mail prior to the above blockquote on absentee balloting.

See if you catch it (I will include the full quote but with the above blockquote in bold to show why I think it's hackery:

Voting by mail is now common enough and problematic enough that election experts say there have been multiple elections in which no one can say with confidence which candidate was the deserved winner. The list includes the 2000 presidential election, in which problems with absentee ballots in Florida were a little-noticed footnote to other issues.

In the last presidential election, 35.5 million voters requested absentee ballots, but only 27.9 million absentee votes were counted, according to a study by Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He calculated that 3.9 million ballots requested by voters never reached them; that another 2.9 million ballots received by voters did not make it back to election officials; and that election officials rejected 800,000 ballots. That suggests an overall failure rate of as much as 21 percent.

Some voters presumably decided not to vote after receiving ballots, but Mr. Stewart said many others most likely tried to vote and were thwarted. “If 20 percent, or even 10 percent, of voters who stood in line on Election Day were turned away,” he wrote in the study, published in The Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, “there would be national outrage.

So Liptak inserts the opening graph in a way that makes the reader think voting by mail and absentee balloting are one in the same. The takeaway is readers might also conclude, with no factual evidence, that voting by mail is a problem.

I also have to say, his observation about absentee ballots being little noticed was wrong too. And might that have been the fault of the traditional media for not pointing out the problems that allowed Bush to "win" Florida.

But the biggest bit of hackery comes near the end of the story when Liptak reveals his big absentee ballot fraud example:

Last November, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, suspended a school board member in Madison County, not far from here, after she was arrested on charges including absentee ballot fraud.

The board member, Abra Hill Johnson, won the school board race “by what appeared to be a disproportionate amount of absentee votes,” the arrest affidavit said. The vote was 675 to 647, but Ms. Johnson had 217 absentee votes to her opponent’s 86. Officials said that 80 absentee ballots had been requested at just nine addresses. Law enforcement agents interviewed 64 of the voters whose ballots were sent; only two recognized the address.

Ms. Johnson has pleaded not guilty.

The big example here was that out of 1322 votes, 62 might have been questionable. Yes, those votes constituted 4.6% of the total cast. There were around 125 million voters in 2008 and the best example of fraud the New York Times comes up with involves a frickin' school board election. Seriously.
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