Re: FL 13 Was screen layout the cause of the undervote?

From: <SomeThoughts_at_aol_dot_com>
Date: Tue Nov 28 2006 - 00:22:02 CST

There's a 40+ page paper out claiming that the huge FL 13 race was due to
ballot design problems - a simple 2-candidate race "hidden" on the same page as a
governors race with 7 alternatives. They point out that a similar effect
occured in 2 different counties where the Attorney General's (AG) race was
included below the governor's race on the same page.

I am sending this out for discussion and FYI. I am not endorsing the position
the paper takes.
Among other things, section 2.1 "Three Explanations for the Sarasota
Undervote" completely ignores deliberate vote fraud, which, given this history of
such activities in the US, and in FL, must be taken into consideration. This
could include deliberate vote fraud for the AG race too.

It would be helpful to compare this with studies of similar ballot layout in
other races around the country.

They did conclude that without the undervote, Jennings would very probably
(90%) have won. (pg 39)

Jim Soper


 ( )

Ballot Formats, Touchscreens, and Undervotes:
A Study of the 2006 Midterm Elections in Florida1
Laurin Frisina2 Michael C. Herron3 James Honaker4
Jeffrey B. Lewis5
Initial Draft: November 23, 2006


The 2006 midterm elections in Florida have focused attention on undervotes,
ballots on which no vote is recorded on a particular contest. This interest was
sparked by the high undervote rate— more than 18,000 total undervotes out of
240,000 ballots cast—in Florida’s 13th Congressional District race, a race
that, as of this paper’s writing, was decided by 369 votes. Using precinct-level
voting returns, we show that the high undervote rate in the 13th
Congressional District race was almost certainly caused by the way that one county’s
(Sarasota’s) electronic touchscreen voting machines placed the 13th Congressional
District race above the Florida Governor election on a single screen. We
buttress this claim by showing that extraordinarily high undervote rates were also
observed in the Florida Attorney General race in Charlotte and Lee Counties,
places where that race appeared below the Governor race on the same screen.
Using a statistical imputation model to identify and allocate excess undervotes,
we find that there is a roughly 90 percent chance that the much-discussed
Sarasota undervotes were pivotal in the very close 13th Congressional District
race. Greater study and attention should be paid to how alternatives are presented
to voters when touchscreen voting machines are employed.


Pg 3) To the point, the iVotronics used in Sarasota did not produce unusually
high undervote rates in other races. Furthermore, unusually high undervote
rates did not occur in other races in which candidate buttons were located in a
similar position on the screen to the candidate buttons for CD 13 as one might
expect if certain areas of the screen were less likely to register a touch.
... Indeed, elevated undervoting was not observed in CD 13 outside of Sarasota
County nor was it a feature of absentee balloting within Sarasota. As we
demonstrate below, the most likely culprit for the high CD 13 undervote rate is
ballot layout. As has been noted in a variety of press accounts, among counties
participating in the CD 13 race only in Sarasota was the CD 13 race itself
placed on the same ballot screen with the Governor’s race which include seven
alternative candidates (including a write-in line). In other counties and on
Sarasota’s absentee ballot, CD 13 appeared on its own ballot screen, next to (in a
horizontal sense) the Florida United States Senate race, or along with a large
number of other races in the case of optical scan ballots.


Pg 4) To further buttress our conclusion that the CD 13 undervote problem
resulted from the ballot layout used in Sarasota County, we show very similar
effects in Charlotte and Lee counties in which the race for Florida Attorney
General was combined with the Governor’s race on a single ballot screen. We find
that Charlotte County’s ballot format is associated with an excess of
undervotes that was roughly twice as prominent as found in Sarasota’s CD 13 ballots
(and Lee County’s ballot format in the Attorney General race is similar although
not quite as pronounced). The focus in the public on the CD 13 race over the
Attorney General contest presumably reflects the fact that the former race was
exceedingly close whereas the Florida Attorney General was close but not
recount-close, so to speak.

It remains possible, of course, that a programming or design flaw in
Charlotte County’s, Lee County’s, and Sarasota County’s touchscreen machines caused
low vote counts when a race (either the CD 13 rate or the race for Florida
Attorney General) was placed on the same page as the Florida Governor’s race.
However, it is our belief that the CD 13 undervote problem is most likely is
related to the combination of a high-profile contest with a large number of
alternatives being placed on same screen as a race with only two alternatives.

Pg 5) Whatever doubt remains about the fundamental cause of the large number
of CD 13 undervotes in Sarasota County, we can say with very high confidence
that the undervote patterns observed in the CD 13 race would not have obtained
had Sarasota voters been presented with the same voting machinery and ballot
layouts used elsewhere in CD 13. Overall, as we explain in detail later, our
statistical models suggest that there is a 90 percent chance that Jennings would
have won the CD 13 election had voting in Sarasota employed the machinery and
ballots layouts used elsewhere in the district. In particular, we find that
Jennings would have picked up between 103 and 2080 had this been the case.

Pgs 7 - 10)
2.1 Three Explanations for the Sarasota Undervote
2.1.1 Protest Undervotes
2.1.2 Ballot Formatting
2.1.3 Voting Machine Malfunctions

Pg 37) 6 Conclusion
The motivation for this paper was the unusually high undervote rate in the
13th Congressional District race in Sarasota County, Florida. This race featured
Republican Vern Buchanan versus Democratic Christine Jennings, and we have
explained the undervote rate by drawing on variance in ballot formats across
counties and types of voters (election day, early, and absentee). In particular,
we highlighted the way that the touchscreen voting machines in Sarasota County
grouped races and in particular grouped a Congressional race with the Florida
governor’s race. The problematic grouping method that Sarasota employed—
having a two-candidate United States House race on the same touchscreen page as
the Florida gubernatorial race—was employed by other counties, albeit with
different races, and in these other counties and associated races we generally find
high undervote rates. The only times we see a problematic grouping without a
large undervote is when the associated race is not at all close.

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Received on Thu Nov 30 23:17:15 2006

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