Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Partisan accusations won't fix elections

Once again, the conspiracy theorists concerned about electronic voting machines have infiltrated the media with more groundless accusations that the Republican Party is rigging elections. The latest was a piece entitled ["All the President’s Votes?"] published by Andrew Bryant in the Independent/UK on Monday, linked here at Common Dreams since the article has been pulled from the Independent’s Web site.
The latest allegations? Well, polling data before the election showed incumbent Democrats in Georgia winning but then they lost because the state has DRE touch-screen voting machines. 
Now, as I have said before on a few occasions, there is vote fraud in America and I don’t trust the touch-screen voting machines because there is no paper trail. However, more information, testing, and data are needed in order to clearly show whether fraud is actually occurring instead of conspiracy theories forwarded by political partisans who don't understand the process.

 First, let's look at the example raised by the Independent/UK article – election results from Georgia in the midterm election. It is true that Republicans were able to beat Democrats in 2002 even though polling data speculated that Democrats might win.
Republican Sonny Perdue received 1,041,700 votes to win the governor's seat against incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes, who received 937,070 votes. In the U.S. Senate race, Republican Saxby Chambliss [1,068,902 votes] handily beat incumbent Democrat Max Cleland [928,905 votes], 53 to 46 percent. However, that same year, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor easily beat his Republican rival Steve Stancil by 6 percent, receiving 1,037,455 votes compared to Stancil's 912,214 votes.
Now, before speculating anymore, look at the actual numbers. All the numbers are very similar except the outcomes were different. However, why didn't those 130,000 people who voted for Perdue vote for Stancil? If Republicans control the voting machines in Georgia either by remote control, modem, or by messing with the software, why would Taylor, a Democrat, be in office? If the conspiracy were true, shouldn't Taylor have lost too? Or did Taylor run a better campaign than the others and win on his own despite a conservative swing or "rigged" voting machines? As someone with more than 20 years experience working on political campaigns – mostly for Democrats and progressive independents – I can tell you that it is a safe bet that a whole lot of voters in Georgia probably split their tickets.
Georgia was redistricted in 2002, and the state gained two congressional seats because of population growth. Despite the Republican tide, Democrats managed to gain the two extra seats and now control four seats in the delegation. Republicans continued to control nine of the congressional seats. In all but two of the nine races Republicans won their seats by a whopping 50 percent or more!
For those of you who weren't in the United States during the midterm elections, the national Democratic Party ran an extremely negative campaign, alienating much of its base in race after race, state after state. I could cite a bunch of examples but I am trying to keep this brief.
The Democrats didn't learn from their disastrous 2000 election and bombarded voters with negative advertising, in some respects, trying to out-Republican the Republicans. At the same time, the Republicans were also negative and used the invasion of Iraq against the Democrats – even though many of them voted with the president! The Republican strategy worked; the Democrat's strategy didn't.
However, let's go back into history, before touch-screen voting machines – which were installed after the November 2001 municipal election cycle – and look at some specific election returns from Georgia.
The perception that Georgia is a Democratic state is a false one. Yes, Democrat Bill Clinton squeaked by a win in 1992 against George H. W. Bush but that was because Ross Perot garnered 13 percent of the vote, taking thousands of conservative votes from Bush. In 1996, the hapless Bob Dole beat Clinton by 1 percent, with Perot taking another 6 percent from the conservative candidate. The combination of voters from Bush/Dole and Perot far outweighed those of Clinton, admittedly a pretty conservative Democrat, proving that given a choice of two candidates, the more conservative candidate probably would have won.
In 2000, with no Perot in the race and George W. Bush handily beat Al Gore, 55 to 43 percent or almost 300,000 votes. Sure, there were 94,000 votes thrown out which led the state to look at new voting machines. But even if those were all Gore votes, he still would have lost. That same year, incumbent Sen. Zell Miller – a conservative Democrat who votes with Bush more often than not – handily beat his Republican opponent, Mack Mattingly, 57 to 39 percent. So, there was some ticket splitting going on in 2000, too. Nine of the 11 congressional seats were held by Republicans, most winning by 20 percent or more. One Republican, John Linder, in District 11, ran unopposed.
But what about the polling numbers that showed the Democrats winning a couple of weeks before the election? Well, polls – like DRE voting machines – can't be trusted, even if so many people use them to come up with outlandish speculations.
In the Mason-Dixon poll conducted Oct. 16, 625 likely voters were questioned with Cleland getting 47 percent and Chambliss getting 41 percent or a close 6 percent difference. Another 12 percent – a pretty large number – were undecided or voting for independent candidates. I don't know what the margin of error was but if all the undecideds made up their minds and voted for Chambliss – not an unreasonable assumption – it is exactly the same as the actual vote totals. This is a fair assumption. As most everyone knows, undecideds tend to break for challengers in almost every election by large margins. Probably not 100 percent, but a lot. As the speculation goes, if undecideds aren't already with the incumbent, they won't be on Election Day. So, Chambliss could have easily won this election being on 6 percent down.
A couple of weeks before, a Marketing Workshop/Mitchell Research poll conducted the last weekend in September had Cleland at 51 percent and Chambliss getting 42 percent with 7 percent undecided or other, with only 500 likely voters polled. So something was obviously happening because the spread went from 11 percent to 6 percent in a matter of weeks.
However, no one should be relying on the opinions of 500 or 625 people to determine the outcome of an election with two million voters participating! That is 25,000th of 1 percent of the vote determining the vote of an entire state! Elections just don't work that way, and no one should assume they do.
This is the second time I have had to debunk these theories with actually proof – election results from actual elections! ["Vote fraud, conspiracies, and real solutions to the elections problem"]. I really wish a commission would get some money together, buy some of these machines, and rip them apart in an effort to find the problems. Otherwise, these people are just blowing smoke.
And that is the problem here: Partisans are running around the United States claiming to be experts in computers and politics. These people are making a lot of unfounded accusations about conservatives in an effort to undermine legitimate elections.
Are there problems with the DRE voting machines? Yes. Should the machines be trusted and should we be using them? No, we should be using paper ballots scanned optically and allowing a paper trail for recounts. But that doesn't mean the Republicans are rigging the machines. There is no proof to these accusations, and newspapers - and left wing Web sites - continue to print these allegations.
In order to fix these problems, our nation must move beyond partisan politics and emotional rhetoric and stick to what is accurate and what is factual. Only then will the correct resolution be implemented and then a free and open process will prevail.
Lastly, as an aside, it was Democrat Gov. Barnes who approved the $54 million bond which was used to purchase the new DRE voting machines for the state before they really had a chance to test the machines. Maybe he should have bought the optical scanning machines instead.