Re: statistical study after next Tues election

From: Douglas W. Jones <jones_at_cs_dot_uiowa_dot_edu>
Date: Sun Oct 31 2004 - 10:12:39 CST

On Oct 29, 2004, at 7:40 PM, Kathy Dopp wrote:

> QUESTION: After next Tuesday, I want to see a statistical study (even
> if
> I have to figure out how to do it myself) by county in swing states
> like
> Florida and Ohio, that have different voting systems in different
> counties, to compare election results in counties using paperless DREs
> with election results in counties using other voting machines to
> examine
> if there is any statistical increased evidence/likelihood of election
> rigging/hacking/unexpected-errors with paperless DREs.
>
> This could be done with a list of counties' respective numbers
>
> * type of voting machine,
> * November election results,
> * poll results leading up to the election, and
> * surveys of relative numbers of democrats/republicans, or prior
> election
> results in each county.

Such a study should include, on a county by county basis, the
percent undervote on the presidential race and the percent overvote
(where overvotes are allowed). It is useful to break the totals
into 3 pieces, by county:

   in precinct -- voted on whatever precinct vote collection technology
   postal absentee -- voted on paper ballots, usually machine scanned
   early voting -- paper in some places, DRE in some places

It is important not to lump these together, if this can be helped.
It is also important not to just aggregate all counties using the
same technology, but to look at the spread, within each technology,
depending on the county.

Here's an example from election 2000 in Florida:

   The residual vote (difference between turnout and sum of votes for
   one or another presidential candidate) was about 1.5 percent, on
   average, in counties using Optech optical mark-sense scanners, and
   0.6 percent in counties using Global (now Diebold) precinct-count
   mark-sense scanners. This makes it sound like Optech scanners
   were really inferior. But, the worst counties using either
   technology (Escambia and Washington with Optech, Columbia with
   Global) had residual votes over 3.5 percent, and the best
   counties using either technology had residual votes under 1 percent.
   The big question in my mind is, what did these 3 counties do really
   badly, and what did the best counties (more numerous with both
   brands of scanners) do right?

This example illustrates the danger of just folding all the counties
together into one figure for residual vote. The study must make it
clear whether the residual figures were very consistent from county
to county (probably evidence that the residual vote is a character
of the voting system) or whether the residual vote varies widely with
county (probably evidence that the residual vote is a character of
the administration -- and depending on how many counties exhibit
what residual vote rates, evidence of how easy the technology is to
mis-administer).

Getting hold of the necessary info is fairly easy -- but it varies by
state. Some states, like Florida, make this easy. Just go to the
secretary of state's web site and download the statewide results.
They're typically available broken down by precinct, but county-wide
totals are also offered. Some figures aren't released immediately,
but only come out later.

Visit county web sites. You can grab sample ballots there, and these
samples are important!

Do get the figures before the recount season begins! Don't let lawyers
meddle with the numbers you use in this kind of statistical analysis.

                Doug Jones
                jones@cs.uiowa.edu
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Received on Mon Nov 1 15:28:57 2004

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