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Saturday, April 02, 2005

Poll-Axed 

About our lightning trip to Rome, the less said the better. The next time we are invited to assume the papacy, you may rest assured that we will take the precautionary step of checking the calendar before we pop for the plane ticket.

Returning to matters domestic: we suspect that you have already seen the following item, which has been linked by our distinguished colleagues Susan Madrak, Avedon Carol, Scorpio, and Rorschach (among others), but when it comes to risking redundancy we are, as you know, utterly fearless. A Utah nonprofit called US Count Votes has undertaken a statistical analysis of the unusually large, unusually numerous discrepancies between exit polls and actual vote tallies in the November 2002 presidential election, and according to their report, none of the explanations put forth with such admirable haste by the polling outfit -- which has yet to release its raw data -- stands up to scrutiny. Discrepancies of the same sort that led, in the Ukraine, to a popular uprising and a second, more honest election, led in America to absolute press silence, the widespread delusion that "it can't happen here," and four more years of George W. Bush:


The most thorough and best-established exit poll for U.S. Presidential elections is the Edison/Mitofsky poll, commissioned by major TV networks and print news services to predict the election outcome hours before the official count is known. In November 2004, results of the poll differed sharply from the official vote tally. In fact, the weighted national poll predicted a Kerry victory by 3% in the popular vote, while the official count had Bush the winner by 2.5%. This was the largest discrepancy in the poll’s history.

The 2004 discrepancy arises in a context shaped by numerous reports of voting machine problems and irregularities in the vote count, an overwhelming majority of which favored Bush. Can exit poll results be interpreted as an indication of the global net impact of voting irregularities and bias in the official vote count? Or is it more likely that a bias crept into the exit polls, and this error accounts for the bulk of the discrepancy? . . . .

Our conclusion is that the data appear to be more consistent with the hypothesis of bias in the official count, rather than bias in the exit poll sampling. No data in the report supports the E/M hypothesis that Kerry voters were more likely than Bush voters to cooperate with pollsters and, in fact, there is some indication that the opposite may have been the case . . . .

The hypothesis that official vote counts are biased is not considered seriously in the 19 January report. The only reason offered for dismissing vote count problems is that “in our exit poll sample overall, precincts with touch screen and optical scan voting have essentially the same error rates as those using punch card systems.” But this fact might also be construed as evidence that all four technologies have insufficient safeguards to deter those who might be tempted to alter the equipment for partisan advantage.

Also consistent with the hypothesis of corruption in the vote is the finding that the mean discrepancy is highest in Bush strongholds. It is easy to imagine that in precincts dominated by Bush supporters, the temptation is greater to distort the count for Bush advantage because the risk of detection and punishment would be least. Only in the most strongly Bush precincts did the mean discrepancy depart significantly from the median (10.0% vs 5.8%). If indeed there was corruption of vote counts among the Bush strongholds, this statistic suggests that its distribution was far from uniform, and would be consistent with large-scale vote count corruption in a small proportion of precincts. This hypothesis would be easy to check if E/M were to release their raw polling data.
The official response:
“What are you going to do except laugh at it?'’ said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who’s responsible for administering Ohio’s elections and is a Republican candidate for governor. “We’re not particularly interested in (the report’s findings). We wish them luck, but hope they find something more interesting to do.'’

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