[LINK] Who won the USA 2004 election?

brd at iimetro.com.au brd at iimetro.com.au
Thu Jan 18 14:54:20 AEDT 2007

For those interested in elections and the murky issue of electronic voting.

This also touches on my on-going Link whinge:
     IT systems should always be suspect -- brd.


Who won?
Posted by samzenpus on Wednesday January 17, @03:15PM
from the start-the-political-machines dept.
doom writes

"I think they call them "exit polls" because people bolt for the exits when
mention them, but I'm still fascinated by the subject myself, and this book
one of the reasons why. In Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?, the
central focus is, of course, on the infamous exit-poll discrepancies of the
2004 US Presidential election; but the authors also put it into context: th
discuss the 2000 election, the irregularities in Ohio in 2004, the electron
voting machines issues, and the media's strange reluctance to report on any
these problems. Further, in the chapter "How did America really vote?", the
compare the indications of the raw exit-poll data to other available pollin
data. Throughout, Freeman and Bleifuss do an excellent job of presenting
arguments based on statistical analysis in a clear, concise way."

The heart of the book in my opinion, is Chapter 5, "The inauguration eve
exit-poll report": The Edison and Mitofsky firms that conducted the NEP exi
polls later released a report trying to explain how they could have gotten 
so far wrong. Freeman and Bleifuss, of course, take issue with the presumpt
that the discrepancies must be "errors", and argue in a different direction
This section makes an exciting read (in a nerdy sort of way) it's an impres
piece of statistical judo: Freeman and Bleifuss take on Edison/Mitofsky wit
their own data, and totally shred their conclusions. The authors show: That
exit-poll discrepancies had a statistically significant correlation with th
e use
of electronic voting machines, with races in battleground states, and in al
all cases favored the Republicans. The "Reluctant Bush Respondant" theory l
extremely unlikely: response rates actually look slightly better in Bush
strongholds than in Kerry strongholds; and while media skepticism remains
strong among conservatives, it has been on the rise among Democrats, and ye
the data shows no shift in relative avoidance of pollsters. They also deal 
the various other excuses that were floated shortly after the election: The
discrepancies can't be shrugged off with an "exit polls are not reliable" 
theory shows that they should be better than any other survey data, and his
shows that they always have been pretty reliable. There was no upswing of
support for Bush throughout election day — that impression was entirely a
artifact of the media "correcting" the exit-poll figures to match the offic
results. One of the book's authors, Steven Freeman, was one of the first to
examine the exit-poll discrepancies, and as a professor at University of
Pennsylvania with a background in survey design, he was well equipped to be
delving into the peculiarities he had noticed.

Overall, this is an excellent book for people interested in evaluating the 
with lots of graphs that make it easy to do informal estimates of the stren
of their conclusions (just eye-balling the scatter, the correlations they p
to look real, albeit a little loose, as you might expect). There's also an
appendix with a very clear exposition of the the concept of statistical
significance, and how it applies to this polling data. There are of course,
limits to what one can conclude just from the exit-poll discrepancies: "We
reiterate that this does not prove the official vote count was fraudulent. 
it does say is that the discrepancy between the official count and the exit
polls can't be just a statistical fluke, but commands some kind of systemat
explanation: Either the exit poll was deeply flawed or else the vote count 
corrupted. "

This is a remarkably restrained book: unlike many authors addressing this
controversial subject, Freeman and Bleifuss have resisted the temptation to
rant or speculate or even to editorialize very much. Freeman claims that he
not a political person (and adds "I despise the Democrats"); possibly this 
helped him to maintain his neutrality and focus on the facts of the case.

Personally, I found this book to be something of a revelation: in the confu
immediately after the 2004 election, I had the impression that the people w
wanted to believe that it was legitimate at least had some wiggle room. The
was some disagreement about the meaning of the exit polls: there was that s
at Berkeley that found significant problems, but then the MIT study chimed 
saying there wasn't, so who do you believe? The thing is, the MIT guys late
admitted that they got it wrong: they used the "corrected" data, not the
originally reported exit poll results. The media never covered that
development, and I missed it myself...

On the subject of electronic voting machines, They include a chapter discus
electronic voting in general which covers ground that is by now familiar wi
most readers here: the strange case of Wally O'Dell and Diebold; and also t
lesser known problems with ES&S. Have you heard this one? "In 1992, Hagel, 
an investment banker and president of the holding company McCarthy & Co., b
chairman of American Information Systems, which was to become ES&S in 1999.
[...] In the 1996 elections, Hagel launched his political career with two
stunning upsets. He won a primary victory in Nebraska [...] despite the fac
that he was not well known. Then, in the general election, Hagel was electe
d to
the Senate in what Business Week described as 'an unexpected 1996 landslide
victory over Ben Nelson, Nebraska's popular Democratic governor.'"

My experience is that a lot of people need to hear this point: "The voting
machine company Datamark, which became American Information Systems and is 
known as ES&S, was founded in 1980 by two brothers, Bob and Todd Urosevich.
Today, Todd is a vice president at ES&S and Bob is CEO of Diebold Election

It's impossible to see how you can come away from this situation without se
that we badly need reform of the electoral system: even if you don't believ
the 2004 election was "stolen", how do you know the next one isn't going to
A paper trail that can actually be recounted would be a nice start, eh? But
a start. As the author's point out: "We devoted a chapter to the ills of
electronic voting, but a critical lesson of the 2004 election is that not o
DREs, but all kinds of voting machine systems are suspect. Edison/Mitofsky 
showed that while hand counted ballots accurately reflected exit-poll surve
results, counts from all the major categories of voting machines did not."

In one short passage, the authors list a few "grounds for hope", but follow
up on these points is not encouraging: The Diebold-injunction law suit in
California brought by VoterAction has since been denied and one attempt at 
paper trail amendment, HR 550 has stalled out.

If you're looking for an answer to the question posed by the book's title, 
authors conclude: "So how did America really vote? Every independent measur
points to a Kerry victory of about 5 percentage points in the popular vote
nationwide, a swing of 8 to 10 million votes from the official count."

Of the many and various potentially depressing books out there about the st
of the United States, I recommend this one highly: it addresses a critical 
of issues that everything else depends on.


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Sydney Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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