Monday, November 22, 2004

Researchers: Florida Vote Fishy

By Kim Zetter, Wired News, November 18, 2004


Electronic voting machines in Florida may have awarded George W. Bush up to 260,000 more votes than he should have received, according to statistical analysis conducted by University of California, Berkeley graduate students and a professor, who released a study on Thursday.

The researchers likened their report to a beeping smoke alarm and called on Florida officials to examine the data and the voting systems in counties that used touch-screen voting machines to provide an explanation for the anomalies. The researchers examined the same numbers and variables in Ohio, but found no discrepancies there.


The researchers examined numerous variables that might have affected the vote outcome. These included the number of voters, their median income, racial and age makeup and the change in voter turnout between the 2000 and 2004 elections. Using this information, they examined election results for the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in the state in 1996, 2000 and 2004 to see how support for those candidates and parties measured over eight years in Florida's 67 counties.

They discovered that in the 15 counties using touch-screen voting systems, the number of votes granted to Bush exceeded the number of votes Bush should have received -- given all of the other variables -- while the number of votes that Bush received in counties using other types of voting equipment lined up perfectly with what the variables would have predicted for those counties.

The total number of excessive votes ranged between 130,000 and 260,000, depending on what kind of problem caused the excess votes. The counties most affected by the anomaly were heavily Democratic.

Sociology professor Michael Hout, who chairs the university's graduate Sociology and Demography group, said the chance for such a discrepancy to occur was less than 1 in 1,000.

"No matter how many factors and variables we took into consideration, the significant correlation in the votes for President Bush and electronic voting cannot be explained," he said in a statement. "There is just a trivial probability of evidence like this appearing in a population where the true difference is zero -- less than once in a thousand chances."


Susan Van Houten, cofounder of Palm Beach Coalition for Election Reform, was not surprised by the Berkeley report.

"I've believed the same thing for a while that the numbers are screwy and it looks like they proved it," Van Houten said.

Van Houten said her group had received a number of reports from voters who said that when they voted for Kerry on the Sequoia machines, the review screen showed that the vote had been cast for Bush. The review screen lets voters review their choices before casting their ballot. Van Houten said she was concerned that the same thing may have happened to many other voters who didn't carefully check the review screen before casting their ballot.

"From the computer experts I spoke to, it’s relatively easy to program something into the system so that only every 50th vote would automatically go to Bush," Van Houten said. If this were the case, election officials would be less likely to think there was a problem with the machine if only a few voters noticed it.

But Walter Medane, a professor of government at Cornell University, said the study showed no indication of fraud or that something was out of place with the election results.

"All their study truly demonstrates is what was already well known, which is that the counties that used electronic touch-screen machines differ from the counties that used optical scan ballots in many respects," Mebane wrote in an e-mail. "Whether those differences include fraud specifically involving the electronic machines cannot be determined from regression models such as the UC Berkeley study uses."

Jenny Nash, press secretary for the Florida Department of State, said she would not comment on a report that she had not yet read. She said Florida had been using its current voting systems since 2002 and had "delivered hundreds of successful elections using the systems."

"Florida has one of the most rigorous certification processes in the nation," Nash said. "After a system is certified for use ... then every single voting systems is tested prior to the election, sealed, and then that seal is not broken until Election Day. We have never had any reports from supervisors of machines malfunctioning or of votes being lost."

"I think that's a joke," Van Houten said. "As a poll worker in the primary (election), I personally witnessed three machines go down."

Van Houten's group, which monitored polling places on Nov. 2, found that at least 40 of 798 machines they monitored were unable to print out a final tally tape at the end of the night. In Florida, poll workers are supposed to print out two tallies from each machine -- one for county officials and another for posting at the polls so that voters can see what the tallies were.

"In around 40 cases that didn't occur," Van Houten said. "I personally observed that during the primary as well. A machine just went down and flashed a message that it needed service repair. It didn't print out a tally."

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