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COUP WATCH: Florida Recount Potpourri -- From Red Rock Eater News Service

by Phil Agre Friday, Nov. 17, 2000 at 12:25 PM

A refutation of the argument that Gore is trying to massage the outcome by only cleaning up selected data. An explaination why (among other things) the manual count should be be more accurate than the machine count. And funny numbers in Volusia County--no change in Bush or Gore totals, while other totals change dramatically. Plus links.

Florida Recount -- From Red Rock Eater News Service Florida Recount Potpourri -- From Red Rock Eater News Service

By Phil Agre

From - Sat Nov 11 17:02:00 2000

[I have enclosed two messages relating to the ongoing recount of presidential ballots in Florida. The first explains why (among other things) the manual count should be expected to be more accurate than the machine count (even if it won't be perfect). I have reformatted it. The second points to an odd pattern in the recount in Velousia County. If you look at the recount numbers by county, it really seems like some of the "recounts" were nothing of the sort -- the numbers in those cases aren't changing at all, which is not very likely.

Also, everyone needs to be aware of a bad argument:

Recount 'Em All, or None at All


      http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=65000587

The argument is that Gore is trying an "old statistician's trick", namely massaging the outcome by cleaning up selected data points and leaving others alone. Even if this makes the selected points more accurate, the argument goes, the overall result does not become more accurate, since errors in the other direction aren't affected. The consequence, it is argued, is that you can't recount any ballots in Florida without recounting the whole country. You will probably hear this argument in the coming days, so it helps to know the fallacies:

(1) Because a national revote is impossible, the suggested consequence would make it impossible to redress any election irregularity, no matter how extreme. And the problems with the Florida elections were clearly not just routine glitches but a complete farce, with chaos and worse reported in several counties.

(2) The Gore people have asked for much broader recounts than they have been granted. In particular they have been compelled to pick and choose particular areas for the recount by hand when they would clearly prefer a complete recount.

(3) The Bush people have the same legal rights to ask for recounts as the Gore people, and in fact the Republicans have asked for recounts in many past elections.

(4) Recounts were done throughout Florida, and even though some of them were apparently empty exercises, Gore has gained (according to the unofficial AP survey) something like 1000 votes. This is not supposed to happen, and we were told that it wouldn't happen, so clearly something is wrong, and because the recounts were statewide, the result favoring Gore cannot be a result of the Gore campaign's picking and choosing. (Why do the recount advantages to Gore argue for a flawed initial ballot and not a flawed recount? Because the recount is being carefully monitored by lawyers from both parties.)

Note

On another point, the message by Ben Austin that I sent out last night turns out to be legitimate. This is the guy whose mother was a precinct worker in Palm Beach County. The New York Times has a long article on the situation this morning. I sent it out earlier without flagging it:

Local Officials Say System Fell Apart on Election Day
      http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/11/politics/11PALM.html

Links

Here are more URL's, several of them bearing directly on these issues.

Florida Confusion Has Precedent
      http://www.salon.com/politics/wire/2000/11/11/precedent/

NAACP Hears Florida Voting Testimony
      http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/politics/AP-Recount-NAACP.html

Florida's Election Day Vote Could Be Irrelevant
      http://writ.news.findlaw.com/commentary/20001109_katyal.html

cartoon about the Palm Beach ballot
      http://www.motherjones.com/comics/tater.html

Police Find Locked Ballot Box at Miami Hotel
      http://uk.news.yahoo.com/001111/80/aovym.html

Palm Beach County: Explore Numbers Behind the Controversy
      http://www.govspot.com/features/palmbeach.htm

More Florida Ballots Said Disqualified
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/aponline/20001111/aponline130619_000.htm

Election Result Could Swing on Hand Tally Today
      http://www.gopbi.com/partners/pbpost/epaper/editions/today/news_2.html

Statistics Point to More Than Random Error in Florida Vote
      http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/weds/2000/nov/10/511018638.html

Did Votes Intended for Gore Go to Buchanan?
      http://www.indiana.edu/~playpol/pbmodel.pdf

analysis of James Baker's statement on the Florida recount
      http://www.bushwatch.com/

Bush Seeks To Block Hand Recounts, Thwarting More Accurate Count
      http://la.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=4521

Seminole County Delivers Edge to Bush in Recount
      http://orlandosentinel.com/elections/1110sem.htm

Again, all the election URL's from this list can be found here:

      http://dlis.gseis.ucla.edu/people/pagre/florida.html

We have a list of URL's for regional newspapers in Oregon now, but we still need New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Iowa, if anybody is looking for something useful to do.]

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
This message was forwarded through the Red Rock Eater News Service (RRE). You are welcome to send the message along to others but please do not use the "redirect" option. For information about RRE, including instructions for (un)subscribing, see http://dlis.gseis.ucla.edu/people/pagre/rre.html
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=


Sanity In The Election Process

Date: Sat, 11 Nov 2000 14:42:40 -0800 (PST)
From: PRIVACY Forum
To: PRIVACY-Forum-List@vortex.com
Subject: PRIVACY Forum Digest V09 #24

PRIVACY Forum Digest     Saturday, 11 November 2000     Volume 09 : Issue 24

        (http://www.vortex.com/privacy/priv.09.24)

      Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com)
          Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.
              http://www.vortex.com

      ===== PRIVACY FORUM =====

The PRIVACY Forum is supported in part by the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Cable & Wireless USA, Cisco Systems, Inc., and Telos Systems.
- - -
These organizations do not operate or control the PRIVACY Forum in any manner, and their support does not imply agreement on their part with nor responsibility for any materials posted on or related to the PRIVACY Forum.
-------------------------------------------------------------------

CONTENTS
      Sanity in the Election Process
      (Lauren Weinstein and Peter Neumann)

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Date: Sat, 11 Nov 2000 13:29:47 PST From: lauren@vortex.com (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator) Subject: Sanity in the Election Process

      Lauren Weinstein
      Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility
      Moderator, PRIVACY Forum
      Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

      Peter G. Neumann
      Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility
      Moderator, RISKS Forum
      Chairman, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

"Sanity in the Election Process"

November 11, 2000

The continuing controversies over the results of the recent U.S. Presidential election, particularly concerning the vote in Florida, have now apparently begun to hinge on technical issues relating to voting systems and ballots, especially in terms of machine vs. manual recounts, voting irregularities, voter confusion and complaints, and other related issues.

We feel that several critical points are being misunderstood or misrepresented by some parties to these controversies, particularly in light of Governor George W. Bush's campaign having taken federal court actions attempting to block manual recounts of the vote in several Florida counties. Regardless of the outcome of those particular court actions, the following points are crucial to consider.

1) As is well known to election officials and voting system vendors, but historically not advertised to the public at large, all voting systems are subject to some degree of error -- electronic and mechanical systems alike. Punchcard-based systems are no exception, for which a variety of known problems can occur. These include poor ballot layout (currently a major issue regarding the "butterfly" Palm Beach County ballot), machine reading errors (often relating to incompletely punched ballot selections, usually in the form of "hanging chad"), paper fatigue, and other problems.

In general, so long as the interested parties both have observers participating in manual recounts to assure a consensus on the interpretation and tabulation of the cards, manual recounts provide the MOST reliable mechanism for counting these cards accurately, particularly due to the common hanging chad problem which often reads as "closed" (no vote) when processed through automatic reading machines. Indeed, manual counting is still prevalent today in England and Germany.

It is true that manual recounts tend to boost the number of votes counted, again due to hanging chad and other problems noted above. This suggests that if concerns are present regarding the fairness of a manual recount only in particular counties, the obvious solution is to manually recount in ALL Florida counties, and to manually count ALL votes (not just a sampling). Yes, this will be slow, and potentially expensive. But if the will of voters is not to be subjugated to technical flaws over which they have no control, this would be the only fair course.

2) While all voting systems have "normal" error rates, these errors typically are not of great significance so long as the margin of victory is significantly larger than the error rate, which is usually the case. However, this does NOT suggest that systemic errors in the voting process are of insignificance and can simply be discarded in close elections where the error rate DOES matter.

In particular, the Palm Beach situation from the VERY START of election day showed all the earmarks of systemic problems. Voters complained of ballot confusion in great numbers, harried precinct workers provided conflicting and apparently often inaccurate information to voters about the ability or inability to correct spoiled ballots or other ballot errors, and warnings regarding the confusing ballot situation failed to even reach all affected precincts, among other obvious problems. These problems occurred all through election day in Palm Beach County. The statistically anomalous results of the voting in that area regarding votes received by the Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan would appear to further validate this analysis -- the dramatic vote skew observed clearly does not result from "normal" voting errors that can be reasonably discounted or ignored.

Unlike the typical error rate expected in most elections where significant quantities of voter complaints are not received, the Palm Beach situation, with its extremely atypical and alarming set of complaints and problems throughout election day, would appear to put those votes in a category that cannot be simply swept under the rug, and that appear to be deserving of immediate redress, adjustment, and/or revoting. These widespread voting problems in Palm Beach County were clearly not the fault of "inept" or "moronic" elderly voters, as some persons have arrogantly suggested.

3) Attempts to short-circuit the process of correcting the injustices and technical problems discussed above, through calls for rapid "closure" or the simple accepting of inaccurate and unjust results (particularly in Palm Beach County) "for the sake of the country" should be rejected.

We should not attempt to resolve this situation through quick "solutions" or calls for concessions. These same issues would be present even if the candidates' current positions were reversed. The critical questions shouldn't even be focused on the candidates at all, but rather on the VOTERS themselves, who appear to have been shortchanged by technical issues, procedural problems not under their control, and now by attempts by politicians to hurriedly dispose of this mess through vague references to the public good -- a route that would leave the affected voters effectively disenfranchised.

There are two efforts that need to take place. First, the problems of this particular election, as discussed above, need to be dealt with in a deliberate and fair fashion. If that involves courts, manual recounts, and revoting, both inside and perhaps outside Florida, so be it -- they're all part of the procedures that we have in place. Let's get it right -- we should not be treating voters as disposable peons. If we do not take a proper course, whoever ends up in the White House will be viewed by at least half of the U.S. population, and probably much of the world, as not wholly legitimate.

Secondly, we need to look long and hard at the election process around this country, taking note that calls for radical departures from current widely-used systems must be viewed with extreme care and skepticism. In particular, Internet voting must be considered to be extremely problematic (please see the PFIR Statement on Internet Voting - http://www.pfir.org/statements/voting, and "Hacking the Vote" - http://www.vortex.com/reality/2000-11-08). One major reason to look skeptically upon these hi-tech systems is that their potential reduction in voter privacy and lack of rigorous audit trails fail to allow true recounts to occur when the integrity of the voting process is called into question, and such questions can arise in electronic as well as mechanical voting environments.

We stand at a crossroads where the existence of fundamental flaws in our election system have finally been exposed to the public. It is no longer tenable for the powers that be, with a gentleman's agreement or a nod and a wink, to steamroll over these flaws -- and the will of voters -- for the sake of convenience and expediency. We can start down the path toward ensuring genuine fairness and integrity in the voting process by making sure that the election of last Tuesday is resolved in a manner that not only serves the candidates, but more importantly the will of the voters themselves.

= = = =

Lauren Weinstein
lauren@pfir.org
(818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

Peter G. Neumann
neumann@pfir.org
(650) 859-2375
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Moderator, RISKS Forum - http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks
Chairman, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy http://www.csl.sri.com/neumann

************************


Skewed Recount Results In Volusia County

Date: Sat, 11 Nov 2000 15:58:53 -0500 (EST)
From: Lee Campbell
Subject: Re: Skewed county results in recount ([RRE]Florida recount)

I saw your note about recount oddities on RRE. I have another oddity to add to it: the numbers in Volusia County.

Below are all the tallies before the recount (from CNN) and after the recount (from volusia.org). What's odd here is that the minor candidates received 9003 votes before the recount but only 3979 after the recount, and almost all their totals are different, but the Bush and Gore totals didn't change. If the minor candidates changed that much, it seems really odd that the major candidates would have zero change.

According to the numbers, Nader gained a few hundred, Pat Buchanan gained 100, while Browne lost 85% of his votes, and Phillips lost 99%. Meanwhile, the Bush & Gore totals remained precisely unchanged.

      - Lee Campbell       elwc031@media.mit.edu

-------

From: http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2000/results/FL/index8.7.html

VOLUSIA Nov. 7 100% of precincts

Candidates Votes Vote % EV

      Gore             97,063     49 %   0
      Bush             82,214     42 %   0
      Browne           3,211     2 %   0
      Phillips           2,927     2 %   0
      Nader             2,436     2 %   0
      Buchanan         396     1 %   0
      Hagelin               33     1 %   0

    no winner declared

    results as of 8:38 p.m. EST, 11/8

From: http://www.volusia.org/11-8c-00.htm

    November 8, 2000
    Holly Smith
    Community Information Specialist
    CANVASSING BOARD COMPLETES RECOUNT

The Canvassing Board for Volusia County's general election completed the state mandated recount of the Presidential vote at 8 p.m., Wednesday, November 8. There were no changes in the unofficial returns in the Presidential race.

Volusia's results show:

    Al Gore -- 97,063 votes.
    George Bush -- 82,214 votes.
    Harry Browne -- 442 votes.
    Ralph Nader -- 2,903 votes.
    James Harris -- 8 votes.
    John Hagelin -- 36 votes.
    Pat Buchanan -- 496 votes.
    David McReynolds -- 5 votes.
    Howard Phillips -- 20 votes.
    Monica Moorehead -- 69 votes.

    The results of the Canvassing Board's recount were provided to the State Department of Elections Wednesday evening.

-------

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