E-Voting News and Analysis, from the Experts

Sunday December 12, 2004

More e-voting problems

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 12:00 pm PST

(I am just going to update this post as I hear of more problems as they are reported in the press…)

These are courtesy of VotersUnite!:

Friday November 19, 2004

New Study of E-Voting Effects in Florida

Filed under: — Felten @ 10:09 am PST

Yesterday, a team of social scientists from UC Berkeley released a study of the effect of e-voting on county-by-county vote totals in Florida and Ohio in the recent election. It’s the first study to use proper social-science modeling methods to evaluate the effect of e-voting.

The study found counties with e-voting tended to tilt toward Bush, even after controlling for differences between counties including past voting history, income, percentage of Hispanic voters, voter turnout, and county size. The researchers estimate that e-voting caused a swing in favor of Bush of up to 260,000 votes in Florida. (A change of that many votes would not be enough to change the election’s result; Bush won Florida by about 350,000 votes.)

No e-voting effect was found in Ohio.

The study looks plausible, but I don’t have the expertise to do a really careful critique. Readers who do are invited to critique the study in the comments section.

Regardless of whether it is ultimately found credible, this study is an important step forward in the discourse about this topic. Previous analyses had shown differences, but had not controlled for the past political preferences of individual counties. Skeptics had claimed that “Dixiecrat” counties, in which many voters were registered as Democrats but habitually voted Republican, could explain the discrepancies. This study shows, at least, that the simple Dixiecrat theory is not enough to refute the claim that e-voting changed the results.

Assuming that the study’s authors did their arithmetic right, there are two possibilities. It could be that some other factor, beyond the ones that the study controlled for, can explain the discrepancies. If this is the case, we can assume somebody will show up with another study demonstrating that.

Or it could be that e-voting really did affect the result. If so, there are several ways this could have happened. One possibility is that the machines were maliciously programmed or otherwise compromised; I think this is unlikely but unfortunately the machines are designed in a way that makes this very hard to check. Or perhaps the machines made errors that tended to flip some votes from one candidate to the other. Even random errors of this sort would tend to affect the overall results, if e-voting counties different demographically from other counties (which is apparently the case in Florida). Another possibility is that e-voting affects voter behavior somehow, perhaps affecting different groups of voters differently. Maybe e-voting scares away some voters, or makes people wait longer to vote. Maybe the different user interface on e-voting systems makes straight party-line voting more likely or less likely.

This looks like the beginning of a long debate.

Friday November 12, 2004

Waiting to Vote

Filed under: — Felten @ 2:37 pm PST

One of the underreported stories from last week’s election was the effect of long waiting lines at polling places. Many polling places in Ohio, for example, had lines of three hours or more. Though many voters waited, determined to cast their votes, quite a few must have been driven away. Not everybody has three hours to spend at the polling place.

A story in the Boston Phoenix, by David S. Bernstein, points to significant reductions in the number of polling places in some parts of Ohio, compared to the 2000 election. According to the article, polling places were consolidated on the theory that voters would cast their votes much more quickly on the touch-screen systems that were to be used in this year’s election. But then many counties put aside the touchscreens due to security concerns, and used the old punch-card system instead. The result is the same voting system as before, but with many fewer polling stations. Add in a higher than usual turnout and long lines result.

How did this affect the election results? Some data from the article:

Of Ohio’s 88 counties, 20 suffered a significant reduction — shutting at least 20 percent (or at least 30) of their precincts. Most of those counties have Republicans serving as Board of Elections director, including the four biggest: Cuyahoga, Montgomery, Summit, and Lucas.

Those 20 counties went heavily to Gore in 2000, 53 to 42 percent. The other 68 counties, which underwent little-to-no precinct consolidation, went exactly the opposite way in 2000: 53 to 42 percent to Bush.

In the 68 counties that kept their precinct count at or near 2000 levels, Kerry benefited more than Bush from the high turnout, getting 24 percent more votes than Gore did in 2000, while Bush increased his vote total by only 17 percent.

But in the 20 squeezed counties, the opposite happened. Bush increased his vote total by 22 percent, and Kerry won just 19 percent more than Gore in 2000.

This suggests that the long lines may have driven away more Kerry voters than Bush voters. But it’s only a suggestion at this point, not a solid inference; and in any case the effect doesn’t look big enough to call Bush’s victory into question.

It would be great to see a carefully, methodologically sound study of this issue.

Friday November 05, 2004

More e-voting problems - from the AP news wire

Filed under: — Rubin @ 12:18 pm PST

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ An error with an electronic voting system gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in suburban Columbus, elections officials said. Franklin County’s unofficial results had Bush receiving 4,258 votes to Democrat John Kerry’s 260 votes in a precinct in Gahanna. Records show only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct. Bush actually received 365 votes in the precinct, Matthew Damschroder, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, told The Columbus Dispatch. State and county election officials did not immediately respond to requests by The Associated Press for more details about the voting system and its vendor, and whether the error, if repeated elsewhere in Ohio, could have affected the outcome. Bush won the state by more than 136,000 votes, according to unofficial results, and Kerry conceded the election on Wednesday after acknowledging that 155,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted in Ohio would not change the result. The Secretary of State’s Office said Friday it could not revise Bush’s total until the county reported the error. The Ohio glitch is among a handful of computer troubles that have emerged since Tuesday’s elections. In one North Carolina county, more than 4,500 votes were lost because officials mistakenly believed a computer that stored ballots electronically could hold more data than it did. And in San Francisco, a malfunction with custom voting software could delay efforts to declare the winners of four races for county supervisor. In the Ohio precinct in question, the votes are recorded onto a cartridge. On one of the three machines at that precinct, a malfunction occurred in the recording process, Damschroder said. He could not explain how the malfunction occurred. Damschroder said people who had seen poll results on the election board’s Web site called to point out the discrepancy. The error would have been discovered when the official count for the election is performed later this month, he said. The reader also recorded zero votes in a county commissioner race on the machine. Workers checked the cartridge against memory banks in the voting machine and each showed that 115 people voted for Bush on that machine. With the other machines, the total for Bush in the precinct added up to 365 votes. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a glitch occurred with software designed for the city’s new “ranked-choice voting,” in which voters list their top three choices for municipal offices. If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes outright, voters’ second and third-place preferences are then distributed among candidates who weren’t eliminated in the first round. When the San Francisco Department of Elections tried a test run on Wednesday of the program that does the redistribution, some of the votes didn’t get counted and skewed the results, director John Arntz said. “All the information is there,” Arntz said. “It’s just not arriving the way it was supposed to.” A technician from the Omaha, Neb. company that designed the software, Election Systems & Software Inc., was working to diagnose and fix the problem.

Wednesday November 03, 2004

Counting provisional ballots despite a concession

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 11:36 am PST

Dan Tokaji has the skinny on provisional voting in OH:

The big questions of the early morning hours are how many provisional ballots are out there in Ohio, and what process will govern the counting of those provisional ballots. Democrats are reportedly estimating that there are as many as 250,000 provisional ballots in Ohio, while the Secretary of State reportedly projects a number in the low 100,000s. My own rough estimate at this moment is at least 200,000, but no one knows for sure.

However, the AP is reporting the Kerry has conceded.

Tuesday November 02, 2004

TRO Granted in Ohio

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 10:26 pm PST

A TRO has been issued in Ohio to keep the polls open… the order will be posted shortly.

Monday November 01, 2004

Ohio litigation baffles the mind…

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 9:23 pm PST

Today saw an amazing flurry of litigation in Ohio… Dan Tokaji of the Moritz College School of Law is following the fray with superhuman abilities. He has had to stop posting individual entries and has one consolidated post of election litigation news.

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