Monday, November 22, 2004

Berkeley: President comes up short

By Ian Hoffman, Alameda Newspaper Group, November 19, 2004

Last Thursday, a group of UC Berkeley graduate students and Professor Michael Hout, Hout, chair of the university's graduate Sociology and Demography group released a working paper which finds that President Bush received tens of thousands more votes in Florida's electronic-voting Democratic counties than past voting patterns would have suggested.


Excerpts from the Oakland Tribune story:

In the nation's first academic study of the Florida 2004 vote, University of California, Berkeley, graduate students and a professor have found intriguing evidence that electronic-voting counties could have mistakenly awarded up to 260,000 votes to President George Bush.

The discrepancy, reported Thursday, is insufficient by itself to sway the outcome of the presidential race in Florida, but the UC Berkeley team called on Florida elections officials for an investigation.

"This is a no-vote-left-behind kind of project, not a change-the-president project," said UC Berkeley sociology professor Michael Hout, who oversaw the research. "We're as interested in the next election as the one just over."

Broadly speaking, the UC Berkeley team found that President Bush received tens of thousands more votes in electronic-voting Democratic counties than past voting patterns would have suggested. No such pattern turned up in counties using optical scanning machines.

The UC Berkeley report has not been peer-reviewed, but a reputable MIT political scientist succeeded in replicating the analysis Thursday at the request of the Herald and The Associated Press. He said an investigation is warranted.

"There is an interesting pattern here that I hope someone looks into," said MIT Arts and Social Sciences Dean Charles Stewart III, a researcher in the MIT-Caltech Voting Technology Project.

Stewart isn't convinced the problem is electronic voting. It could be absentee voting or some quirk of election administration. But whatever the problem, it didn't show up in counties using optical scanning machines. Rather than offer evidence of fraud or voting problems, the UC Berkeley study infers they exist mathematically.

Frustrated at the low-brow, data-poor nature of allegations of election fraud flooding the Internet, three Berkeley grad students decided to apply the tools of first-year statistics class.

"We decided, well, you might as well test it properly instead of sitting around speculating," said first-year sociology grad student Laura Mangels. She and two colleagues downloaded voting and demographic data, ran them through statistics software and in the first night had results that produced a collective "Wow" among the students, she said.

They shopped their results to faculty and finally to Hout, a well-known skeptic who chairs the university's graduate Sociology and Demography group.

"Seven professors later, nobody's been able to poke a hole in our model," Mangels said. "Our results still hold up."

Hout agreed. "Something went awry with the voting in Florida."

They found nothing out of the ordinary in Ohio. But in Florida they discovered a small, unexplained boost in Bush support in three heavily Democratic counties, compared to how those counties voted in 1996 and 2000.

The counties -- Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade -- were at the eye of Florida's 2000 election storm. All traded out their reviled punchcards for touch-screen voting machines sold by either Omaha-based Election Systems & Software or Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems.

The Kerry-Edwards campaign and allies concentrated most of their Florida effort in those three counties.

In Broward County alone, the students found, President Bush appeared to have received 72,000 more votes than would be forecast based on Broward's past voting patterns.

The UC Berkeley study estimates that all 15 electronic voting counties in Florida produced at least 130,733 and as many as 260,000 "ghost votes" for President Bush -- votes that either weren't cast by voters or were registered for a candidate other than the one intended by the voter.

Hout said the odds that those people simply chose to re-elect the president are "less than one in a thousand." The students tested and retested their data to see what other factor might explain the results -- income levels, the Latino population, changes in voter turnout. According to their report, the data show with 99 percent certainty that a county's use of electronic voting is associated with a disproportionate increase in votes for President Bush.

In early voting in Broward County, poll monitors reported that poll workers displayed zero tapes, printed out when touch-screen machines are booted up, dated as much as 10 days before early voting opened. That leaves room for doubt on whether votes could have been recorded beforehand.

In Palm Beach County, several voters on Sequoia machines reported their ballots were pre-selected for President Bush before they began voting.

MIT's Stewart wants more detailed analysis in the three counties.

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