Re: minority disenfranchisement via machine?

From: Ron Crane <voting_at_lastland_dot_net>
Date: Wed Mar 08 2006 - 12:58:47 CST

Stephanie Frank Singer wrote:
> Friends,
> If anyone has any leads on data indicating that voting machines could
> be used to disenfranchise minority voters disproportionately, please
> send them to Josh Mitteldorf and me. We already know about Josh's
> paper on the New Mexico correlations from 2004 (where race and
> machine type are the strongest correlates for high undervote
> percentages).
> The purpose is to produce some materials for raising the
> consciousness of the many powerful, well-connected and well-funded
> people who work through traditional means to decrease minority
> disenfranchisement.
If you really mean "could be used" as opposed to "have been used", yes,
I have a lead. Imagine that a vendor instruments its machines to fail
more frequently as the proportion of party A votes to party B votes
increases. By "fail", I mean lockup in such a way that they require
servicing by a vendor's repairperson, and therefore must be taken out of
service for the remainder of the affected election. Imagine further that
the probability of failure at a 50%/50% party A/party B ratio is 0.01%
per ballot cast, and that it increases linearly to 0.2% per ballot cast
at a 60%/40% party A/party B ratio. Now imagine two precincts, each of
which has 4 machines and 400 voters (= 100 per machine). In precinct 1,
voters vote at a 50%/50% ratio,and in precinct 2, they vote at a 60%/40%

What's the probability that an arbitrary machine will fail in each precinct?

P(precinct 1 failure) = 1 - (1 - 0.0001)^100 = .01 (= 1%)
P(precinct 2 failure) = 1 - (1 - 0.002)^100 = .18 (= 18%)

What's the probability that at least one machine will fail in each precinct?

P(precinct 1 failure) = 1 - (1 - 0.01)^4 = .04 (= 4%)
P(precinct 2 failure) = 1 - (1 - 0.18)^4 = .55 (= 55%)

Now imagine what that difference in failure rates will do to the
relative length of the lines at the two precincts, and thus to the
number of voters who decide simply to not vote. And this analysis
doesn't even account for what happens after one machine fails, thus
making the remaining machines handle more voters. Hint: it makes them
more likely to fail.

Now when I say that this technique "could be used" as opposed to that it
"has been used", I don't mean to imply that it hasn't been used. I'm
convinced that it has, but lack the ability to document it sufficiently.
That's part of what makes it such a good cheat: documenting it requires
good data and very careful statistical analysis. It's also a good cheat,
of course, because it dissuades voters from voting, something that is
inherently extremely difficult to document.


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Received on Fri Mar 31 23:17:02 2006

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