In what’s a clear partisan story, Rachel Konrad of the AP is claiming that it’s just “academia” that’s fixated on the November 2nd election. It sounds like she’s clear out of the Bush “echo chamber” from what she’s claiming, using the line that Bush’s “clear majority in the popular vote” is somehow supposed to quell any curiosity in the irregularities of Ohio and Florida.

I don’t think it’s conspiratorial nor do I think she has any merit, especially when UC Berkeley students and the UC Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Team put out a paper titled, =”The Effect of Electronic Voting Machines on Change in Support for Bush in the 2004 Florida Elections”. Read it – it’s good stuff.
Academia Still Fixated on John Kerry

By RACHEL KONRAD, AP Technology Writer

SAN FRANCISCO – John Kerry (news – web sites) conceded defeat more than two weeks ago, and President Bush (news – web sites) has already revamped his Cabinet. But as states certify final election returns, an academic debate over their accuracy is heating up.

None of the experts examining the returns has discovered voting anomalies significant enough to have swung the election.

Despite Internet-circulated speculation that Bush’s victory was somehow stolen or rigged, the incumbent’s clear margin in the popular vote count is much wider than any of the problems reported to date — be they voting technology failures, problems with provisional ballots or partisan shenanigans.

“We conclude that there is no evidence, based on exit polls, that electronic voting machines were used to steal the election for President Bush,” researchers at the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (news – web sites) said in an influential report based on early unofficial returns in Florida.

Still, many Americans who mistrust e-voting have seized on the exit polls, wondering whether something nefarious might explain what happened on Nov. 2. Early in the day, exit polling suggested Kerry was heading for a close win in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania; by day’s end, Kerry had won Pennsylvania but Bush had comfortable margins in both Florida and Ohio.

While voting machine makers said their equipment had few problems given the millions of ballots cast, watchdog groups received about 2,000 complaints about lost and miscounted votes and machine breakdowns. Nearly three-dozen Kerry supporters in Florida said they had to repeatedly override the machines to avoid having their votes recorded for Bush.

Internet buzz that perhaps the exit polls were correct and the actual returns might be flawed grew louder this week when sociology graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley went public with an analysis arguing that Florida results in counties using electronic ballots differed from historical voting patterns.

These counties delivered 130,000 to 260,000 more votes for Bush than the group expected, based on a statistical model that factored in population trends, income levels and other predictors of voting behavior.

The official vote count shows Bush won Florida by nearly a 381,000-vote margin, with strong growth in the traditionally Democratic counties of south Florida. Critics of the Berkeley research say Bush’s success may simply be due to a better get-out-the-vote effort, or fears of terrorism driving many Democrats to choose Bush over party loyalty.

“Nationwide it looks like, regardless of the type of voting machines used, Bush was getting a faster mobilization of voters in traditionally Democratic areas than were the Democrats,” said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at MIT who specializes in American politics and research methodology.

Stewart said any Florida discrepancies between historic patterns and the Nov. 2 vote may be explained by nationwide trends — for example, while Republicans easily won many rural and suburban areas they also made impressive gains in urban areas.

The state that gave Bush the biggest number of votes was New York, which does not use electronic voting machines. South Florida — the state’s most urban region — may have followed a similar pattern of showing steady Republican gains, Stewart said.

But because touch-screen machines lack paper records and ballots can’t be examined individually in a recount, the Berkeley students said looking for anomalies is the only way to gauge whether the machines recorded ballots the way voters intended.

They decided to create a model that would account for any available data that might explain why Bush gained votes since 2000 in most of Florida’s 15 counties that switched to electronic voting machines.

For instance, wealthier counties often swing Republican and can afford expensive voting computers. The students’ model for analysis thus factored out the impact of wealth.

However, their study only considered possible explanations for the combination of Bush’s victory and the presence of e-voting equipment. For example, they didn’t factor in the number of campaign visits that the Bush campaign made to a county, or the number of residents who consider themselves evangelical Christians.

Still, the Berkeley group hopes Florida officials will take a closer look at the vote in light of their study to rule out fears that the vote was somehow manipulated in the crucial swing state.

“We view this as a smoke alarm that we need to tell the fire department about,” said Berkeley sociology professor Michael Hout. “It’s up to local officials to figure out what actually happened in their jurisdictions.”

Florida published certified returns Sunday, and some counties across the nation are still counting provisional ballots. As more data is released, further scrutiny is expected from academia and from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. But the pace of such research is slow.

Michael Alvarez, a CalTech political science professor, didn’t publish his analysis of 2000 election data until the spring of 2001.

“I don’t anticipate us being any quicker this time,” he said.

By walterh

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