On integrity of 2004 presidential election

by Wm. Robert Johnston
12 February 2005

The cited report on the US election is rather suspect, and frankly, the suggestion that this election was stolen is baseless. The US CountVotes report based their conclusion--a rather serious allegation--on nothing but a limited statistical sampling with poor controls (i.e. exit polls) and a handful of anecdotes.

The CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project has a report at http://www.vote.caltech.edu/Reports/VotingMachines3.pdf which identifies a variety of factual and logical flaws in the US CountVotes approach. At the national level, US CountVotes overstates the difference between actual votes and exit polls by a factor of four. At the state level--the level that is relevant to election outcome in the US--exit polls differed from actual vote results by erring in Kerry's favor in only 30 states, versus 21 erring in Bush's favor. Electronic voting was more widespread in 2004 than in 2000, while the erroneous poll results occurred both years, undermining the claimed attribution to electronic voting. US CountVotes fails to refute the (probably correct) theory that Bush voters were undersampled in exit polling. The single graph they cite in this regard does not address the types of voters most likely not to participate in exit polls. There is a segment of the conservative voting populace which sees exit polling as an extension of an untrustworthy media and would therefore be disinclined to participate. Finally, the clearly documented cases of election irregularities (documented sufficiently to come to the attention of the courts) have more often been irregularities that favored Democrats. US CountVotes does not directly address these points, and all in all their approach is too weak to have any merit.

It is interesting that given an actual count versus a small statistical sample with known potential for sampling problems, certain groups would claim the sample is correct!

This is not to say that I think electronic voting is a good idea; currently, I am not persuaded so. But the suggestion that our election outcome is invalid is meritless. Indeed, some of those deriding the outcome actually advocate "solutions" that would weaken the integrity of the election system, showing that their motivation is not accuracy but a particular outcome.

(posted at Stephen Gloor Enders Environmental Blog 4 February 2005)

© 2005 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 12 February 2005.
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