Set aside the possibility of fraud, for the moment. We will return to it.
Currently, the margin of difference between Kerry and Bush is 136,483 votes.
The provisional ballots are being counted now. "Provisional" ballots are ballots cast by people who the polling officials couldn't find on the voting rolls, or who had some other reason why they were denied the right to vote along with the rest of the populous. We can expect 90% or more of these votes to be valid, but it takes a long time -- up to ten days -- to correctly validate each and every one to determine that the voter is indeed eligible to vote.
There are 155,337 provisional ballots (from MyDD). These ballots are going to be counted, whether Kerry asks for it or not. They are legally (potential) votes, and Ohio is counting them now.
Assume they break 80% for Kerry, which is being very generous -- but we'll know the precise numbers soon, no matter what. That means Kerry gains an additional 124,269 votes, and Bush gains 31,067 -- so Kerry gains +93,200 votes.
Repeating, these votes will be counted. We will know the totals soon. But note that that still isn't enough, best case scenario, to gain a Kerry victory. Again, the margin of difference is currently 136,483 votes: shrinking that by 93,000 "gained" Kerry votes from provisional ballots means that a recount would have to net Kerry over +43,200 votes in order to actually affect the election.
Ohio primarily uses punchcard voting. Right now, with a difference of over 130,000 votes between Kerry and Bush, nobody wants to touch a hand-recount of those ballots with a ten-foot pole. Memories of Florida are still omnipresent, and the national Democrats aren't going to go down that road unless it would credibly make a difference. When you are down by more than a hundred thousand votes, and you only have 92,000 "spoiled" ballots, there is no possible way that it would make a difference. However, it is likely that a recount would favor Kerry, because poor/minority areas historically have a greater rate of "spoiled" ballots -- ballots which cannot be read by the machine -- than other areas.
According to MyDD, there are 92,672 ballots in which no vote for president was recorded. Even assuming that these ballots leaned 70% for Kerry, which is a very, very remote best-case scenario, that's 64,870 for Kerry, and 27,801 for Bush -- gaining +37,000 votes for Kerry, if all the planets lined up precisely right.
If the margin between Bush and Kerry after counting the provisional ballots is greater than 40,000, there simply isn't any credible way those votes will make the difference. In reality, it is unlikely that Kerry would gain more than 10k-20k votes from it.
If it would potentially make a difference -- that is, if Kerry gained so many provisional ballots as to be within striking range, Ohio law allows for a recount of the ballots. It is a decidedly better system than in Florida 2000.
Only after the provisional and absentee/military votes have been completely counted, election officials will "certify" the results of the election. The candidate (or his electors, or the voters -- it is unclear, but certainly at minimum, the candidate) may contest the results of the election (e.g. ask for a recount) at any point within five days from the day of the election, or at any point until the official "certification" of the results. Note that this means there is at least an eleven-day window here, and possibly more, depending on how "certification" works in Ohio. Note also that this would be a full "hanging-chad" manual recount -- the standards for what is and isn't a vote in Ohio, chad-wise, are spelled out clearly, and so Bush v. Gore wouldn't enter into it.
Also, Kerry "conceding" doesn't enter into it. "Conceding" is a political concept, not a legal one. If Ohio looked like it had some possibility of turning blue, you can bet that Kerry would "un-concede" pretty damn quickly.
Issues of Fraud?
The possibility of fraud has been raised primarily because the results from Ohio are not what people were expecting to see. Republican turnout was very large, and Democrats seemed to vote for Bush in surprising numbers. That is indeed curious, and needs to be analyzed.
Note, however, that it may be entirely explainable. It is entirely probable that Republicans came out in record numbers; it is also not outside the realm of logic that many Midwestern Democrats, swayed by the We Hate Gays initiative on the Ohio ballot or by "values" or "terrorism" or other factors, really did vote for Bush in surprising numbers. It is possible. Keep in mind that rural Democrats and urban Democrats are, in some ways, not exactly the same species -- we tend to forget that, sometimes.
Again, to repeat: Unusual numbers in individual counties in Florida and Ohio are potentially explainable by demographic and other factors; they do not, in and of themselves, constitute "proof" of fraud. (If there are egregious mistakes in some precincts, please post or link to them below, in comments.)
But it is also possible to explain the discrepancies from fraud or error. Intentional fraud, or unintentional error, would in this case consist of misreporting of the numbers from each precinct. Note that few of these Ohio precincts use anything other than the punch-card systems; fraud would be present in the central machines that sum the votes, not from in-precinct shenanigans. Nationwide, these machines are manufactured by Diebold and other vendors; longtime readers will remember Diebold as the heavily-Republican-leaning company (Diebold executives are heavy Bush contributers) whose chief officer announced in a Republican fund-raising letter that the company was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."
Bad fucking move, Walden. Really, really bad.
Let's explain what these "central vote-counting" machines are. Basically, it's a machine running Microsoft Windows with a Microsoft Access database attached. (Note to the computer-savvy among you: Yes, I shit you not. MS Access. Jeez.) The database keeps track of the votes in each precinct, county, etc., much like an Excel spreadsheet. The software is deemed secret and proprietary; previous lawsuits to examine the code that tabulates the votes have been denied.
Sizable mistakes have been found before in Diebold-run elections. More notably, the machines are easily hacked in such a way as to change the vote totals in not-readily-detectable ways. There is a "second set of books" built in to Diebold machines, which can be accessed remotely if necessary. Note that there is some evidence that this has actually happened:
MONDAY Nov 1 2004: New information indicates that hackers may be targeting the central computers counting our votes tomorrow. All county elections officials who use modems to transfer votes from polling places to the central vote-counting server should disconnect the modems now.
There is no down side to removing the modems. Simply drive the vote cartridges from each polling place in to the central vote-counting location by car, instead of transmitting by modem. "Turning off" the modems may not be sufficient. Disconnect the central vote counting server from all modems, INCLUDING PHONE LINES, not just Internet.
In a very large county, this will add at most one hour to the vote-counting time, while offering significant protection from outside intrusion.
It appears that such an attack may already have taken place, in a primary election 6 weeks ago in King County, Washington -- a large jurisdiction with over one million registered voters. Documents, including internal audit logs for the central vote-counting computer, along with modem "trouble slips" consistent with hacker activity, show that the system may have been hacked on Sept. 14, 2004. Three hours is now missing from the vote-counting computer's "audit log," an automatically generated record, similar to the black box in an airplane, which registers certain kinds of events.
Voting "solutions" by other companies have similar reported problems; look at blackboxvoting.org for horror stories about known miscounted election results in actual elections across the country. These machines, both touchscreen and optical-scan, are already proven [PDF] to be prone to errors:
In the 2002 general election, a computer miscount overturned the House District 11 result in Wayne County, North Carolina. Incorrect programming caused machines to skip several thousand partyline votes, both Republican and Democratic. Fixing the error turned up 5,500 more votes and reversed the election for state representative.
Voting machines failed to tally "yes" votes on the 2002 school bond issue in Gretna, Nebraska. This error gave the false impression that the measure had failed miserably, but it actually passed by a 2 to 1 margin. Responsibility for the errors was attributed to ES&S, the Omaha company that had provided the ballots and the machines.
An Orange County, California, election computer made a 100 percent error during the April 1998 school bond referendum. The Registrar of Voters Office initially announced that the bond issue had lost by a wide margin; in fact, it was supported by a majority of the ballots cast. The error was attributed to a programmer's reversing the "yes" and "no" answers in the software used to count the votes.
Software programming errors, sorry. Oh, and reverse that election, we announced the wrong winner. In the 2002 Clay County, Kansas, commissioner primary, voting machines said Jerry Mayo ran a close race but lost, garnering 48 percent of the vote, but a hand recount revealed Mayo had won by a landslide, receiving 76 percent of the vote.
In the November 2002 general election in Scurry County, Texas, poll workers got suspicious about a landslide victory for two Republican commissioner candidates. Told that a "bad chip" was to blame, they had a new computer chip flown in and also counted the votes by hand -- and found out that Democrats actually had won by wide margins, overturning the election.
In 1986 the wrong candidate was declared the winner in Georgia. Incumbent Democrat Donn Peevy was running for state senator in District 48. The machines said he lost the election. After an investigation revealed that a Republican elections official had kept uncounted ballots in the trunk of his car, officials also admitted that a computerized voting program had miscounted. Peevy insisted on a recount. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "When the count finished around 1 a.m., they [the elections board] walked into a room and shut the door," recalls Peevy. "When they came out, they said, `Mr. Peevy, you won.' That was it. They never apologized. They never explained."
A software programming error gave the election to the wrong candidate in November 1999 in Onondaga County, New York. Bob Faulkner, a political newcomer, went to bed on election night confident he had helped complete a Republican sweep of three open council seats. But after Onondaga County Board of Elections staffers rechecked the totals, Faulkner had lost to Democratic incumbent Elaine Lytel. Just a few hours later, election officials discovered that a software programming error had given too many absentee ballot votes to Lytel. Faulkner took the lead.
In a 1998 Salt Lake City election, 1,413 votes never showed up in the total. A programming error caused a batch of ballots not to count, though they had been run through the machine like all the others. When the 1,413 missing votes were counted, they reversed the election.
So the question of whether the machines in Ohio are working properly is hardly a "tinfoil-hat" concern. It is a legitimate question. Note, however, that as of yet evidence of miscounts or tampering is speculative; the only available evidence is statistical analysis of the counties which points to "unusual" results in certain precincts and counties.
Florida, perhaps, is the bigger question. Voting there is almost entirely electronic now, through a combination of touchscreen and optical-scan systems. And, to be quite honest, the vote totals there are far more suspicious than in Ohio. While both states are exhibiting results that are reasonable, they are also exhibiting, in some counties, results that are highly unusual, though not outside the realms of possibility, compared to past elections.
So the question becomes, are the curious numbers in Ohio (and Florida) due to the way the electorate voted, or due to the way those votes were summed up in the central office? It is entirely possible that errors might exist which do not affect the outcome of the election, but which are still serious enough to require a serious review.
This is why I, for one believe it is our national interests to have a manual recount of some of the Ohio counties with the most unusual results. But this is not a Kerry issue; this is a democracy issue. Can these machines be trusted? Recounts in selected counties would resolve this: it needs to be done.
Bev Harris and other activists are filing Freedom of Information Act requests and taking other steps to start analyzing the data. What we can do is put weight behind their efforts, without looking like tinfoil-hat loonies. We have to understand, the possibility that a miscount, even if discovered, will be great enough to change the outcome of the election is remote. These FOIA requests and other investigations are happening so that these machines can be validated, not because any of the parties have any actual evidence of willful fraud.
Please put additional information, action requests, and links to good related diaries in comments below, as well as any questions that you think someone here might be able to answer.
Update [2004-11-5 2:57:13 by Hunter]:
From this diary, we find at least one county with a very egregious vote counting error.
Franklin County, OH: Gahanna 1-B Precinct
638 TOTAL BALLOTS CAST
Fingerhut (D) - 167 votes
Voinovich (R) - 300 votes
Kerry (D) - 260 votes
Bush (R) - 4,258 votes
You don't have to be the Ohio Secretary of State to figure out the problem there. Let's see if he does.
So we do have some concrete evidence of actual machine malfunction or egregious human error. Four thousand votes is not enough to swing the election. But it proves that the vote totals in Ohio are currently not accurate. The question is, how inaccurate are they.
Keep in mind, from above, the kind of errors these machines are capable of:
In the 2002 Clay County, Kansas, commissioner primary, voting machines said Jerry Mayo ran a close race but lost, garnering 48 percent of the vote, but a hand recount revealed Mayo had won by a landslide, receiving 76 percent of the vote.
I'm not a tinfoil hat person. But if the election authorities cannot explain the vote discrepency cited above -- and give a damn good reason why they expect that error to be unique, among all precincts and counties -- it's time for at least a partial recount.
Not for Kerry, but for the good of the country. Democrats, Republicans, all of us -- we need to know whether these machines actually worked.
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