OH "Election Law" prof says US voting systems can Not be subverted

From: Kathy Dopp <kathy_at_uscountvotes_dot_org>
Date: Tue Feb 01 2005 - 14:15:55 CST

I am forwarding this to the list in case any of you have the means or
time to respond to the inaccuracies and misperceptions that professor
Dan Tokaji is spreading about the nature of today's voting systems. He
is, I believe, a lawyer/professor involved in election law issues at
Ohio State.

USCV does not plan any response to this criticism of our paper because
any response would be out of our area of expertise in statistics and in
your area of expertise as voting systems experts.

Thank you in advance for your kind effort, and please do not feel
obliged to take action. This is strictly FYI. Please pass it on to
anyone you think may be helpful in setting this professor straight on
the facts. Kathy

Monday, January 31

*Mea Culpa Rejected
*A couple weeks ago, the Edison/Mitovsky folks who brought you the
now-famously erroneous election-day exit polls issued this report
explaining how they went wrong. The exit polls overstated the Kerry vote
significantly, nationally and in 26 states. Overall, the polls showed
Kerry winning the popular vote by 3.0% when in fact Bush won by 2.5%. In
a nutshell, the Edison/Mitovsky report attributes the error to Kerry
voters participating in exit polls at higher rates than Bush voters. The
report also concluded that "Exit polls do not support the allegations of
fraud due to rigging of voting equipment," noting that the exit polls
were about as far off in jurisdictions using paper-based optical scan
equipment as they were in those using electronic voting machines.

Now, a group calling itself "US Counts Votes" is contesting
Edison/Mitovsky's attempt to fall on their sword. USCV has issued this
suggesting that it wasn't the exit polls that were wrong in all those
states but the vote totals -- and, more specifically, that a variety of
"un-auditable" voting systems are to blame. The group, which describes
itself as composed of "prominent statisticians," claims to have come up
with statistical evidence that the exit poll reports were just the "tip
of a national iceberg." USCV rejects the conclusion that Kerry voters
participated in exit polls at a higher rate than Bush voters, noting
that precincts with 80-100% Bush voters showed higher participation
rates than those with 0-20% Bush voters. They point to the fact that
precincts with hand-counted paper ballots showed no statistical
discrepancy between exit polls and actual results, while those with
other kinds of voting equipment -- including punch cards, optical scans,
electronic machines, and lever machines -- all did. One of the
statisticians responsible for the report describes this as a "coherent
theory that must be explored."

*My take: *I'll mostly leave the explanation of the problems with the
exit poll results to those more skilled in the art and science of
polling, like Mark Blumenthal and his Mystery Pollster site
<http://www.mysterypollster.com/>. What I do want to respond to here is
the suggestion that the statisticians who make up this group -- none of
whom appear to have any particular knowledge of election administration
-- have come up with any theory, coherent or otherwise, of how huge
numbers of votes were shifted from Bush to Kerry in multiple states.

As an initial matter, the USCV group cites the fact that hand-counted
paper ballot precincts showed no discrepancy between exit polls and
actual results, while precincts using other technologies did. What they
don't mention is the fact that hand-counted paper ballots were used by
only about 0.6% of voters in 2004
<http://www.electiondataservices.com/EDSInc_VEstudy2004.pdf>, mostly in
smaller rural counties. Thus, the fact that the exit polls were close to
accurate among the few voters who still use hand-counted paper ballots
proves, well, pretty close to nothing.

More to the point, how in the world do they hypothesize that hundreds of
thousands of votes were switched on election night, in the 13,000 or so
different local jurisdictions that are responsible for administering
elections, using different types of voting equipment manufactured by
several different companies? Were all of these folks in on some grand
conspiracy? There's no "coherent theory" offered here -- in fact,
there's no theory offered at all. The decentralization of our election
system has many disadvantages, but one of it's advantages is that it
makes it practically impossible to pull off the sort of grand conspiracy
that USCV hypothesizes. You may be able to bribe one election official
or even a dozen. But how do you bribe thousands without being detected?

To be sure, some votes were undoubtedly lost due to the faulty equipment
-- most notably punch cards -- still used by a significant percentage of
voters in the United States. Others may have been discouraged from
voting due to long lines. Still others were undoubtedly prevented from
voting due to registration foul-ups and the failure properly to
administer provisional voting. But none of these things even begin to
explain the discrepancy between the exit polls and the actual results.
Nor is there any plausible explanation offered as to how such a large
number of votes could have been switched.

Put simply, the USCV folks may know statistics but they don't seem to
know much about the administration of elections. Now I do know something
about elections (or at least, in the eyes of my detractors, pretend to),
but concede relatively little knowledge about statistics. Still, there's
something else in the USCV report that seemed a little fishy even to my
relatively untrained statistical eye. As noted above, they rely on a
chart appearing at page 4 of their response
showing that voters in 80-100% Bush precincts had slightly higher
response rates than than those in 0-20% Bush precincts. But precincts at
those two extremes are relatively rare. Thus, as Mystery Pollster Mark
Blumenthal notes here
<http://www.mysterypollster.com/main/2005/01/the_reluctant_b.html>, this
doesn't really refute the argument that Kerry voters participated in
exit polls at higher rates than Bush voters:

    the two extreme precinct categories are by far the smallest (see the
    table at the bottom of p. 36): Only 40 precincts of 1250 (3%) were
    "High Rep" and only 90 were "High Dem" (7%). More than three
    quarters were in the "Even" (43%) or "Mod Rep" (33%) categories. Not
    that this explains the lack of a pattern - it just suggests that the
    extreme precincts may not be representative of most voters.

He also points out here
<http://www.mysterypollster.com/main/2005/01/the_war_room.html> that the
exit polls were off by almost as much in 1992 and have consistently
overestimated the vote for Democratic candidates. Why might that be?
Blumenthal notes here
errors favoring Kerry tended to occur in places where the interviewer
was under 35, inexperienced, and had a graduate degree -- and that "it
is not hard to see the underlying attitudes and behaviors at work might
create and exacerbate the within-precinct bias." As he notes:

    Consider age, for example. What assumptions might a voter make about
    a college student approaching with a clipboard? Would it be crazy to
    assume that student was a Kerry supporter? If you were a Bush voter
    already suspicious of the media, might the appearance of such an
    interviewer make you just a bit more likely to say no, or to walk
    briskly in the other direction? Would it be easier to avoid that
    interviewer if they were standing farther away? What if the
    interviewer were forced to stand 100 feet away, among a group of
    electioneering Democrats - would the Bush voter be more likely to
    avoid the whole group?

Maybe this explains the higher response rate among Kerry voters, and
maybe it doesn't. But at least it's a coherent and plausible explanation
of how this might have happened. That's a whole lot more than the USCV
folks offer
- posted by Dan Tokaji @ 11:38 PM


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Received on Sun Feb 27 17:17:01 2005

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