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3/04/2005

Ohio

I hesitate to write this post for two reasons. First, because the 2004 election was for obvious reasons fairly traumatic for me, and I hate to even think about it; second, because I am going to paste excerpts from an article by a writer who is a thoroughly wretched douchebag.

Christopher Hitchens is not a fan of John Kerry, and he openly supported George W. Bush in last year's election. So he has no particular motivation to question the results in Ohio. But in this article from Vanity Fair (found via Brian Leiter), Hitchens does just that:


... here are some of the ... reasons to revisit the Ohio election.

First, the county-by-county and precinct-by-precinct discrepancies...

...In Cuyahoga County, which includes the city of Cleveland, two largely black precincts on the East Side voted like this. In Precinct 4F: Kerry, 290; Bush, 21; Peroutka, 215. In Precinct 4N: Kerry, 318; Bush, 11; Badnarik, 163. Mr. Peroutka and Mr. Badnarik are, respectively, the presidential candidates of the Constitution and Libertarian Parties. ... In 2000, Ralph Nader’s best year, the total vote received in Precinct 4F by all third-party candidates combined was eight.

In Montgomery County, two precincts recorded a combined undervote of almost 6,000. This is to say that that many people waited to vote but, when their turn came, had no opinion on who should be the president, voting only for lesser offices. In these two precincts alone, that number represents an undervote of 25 percent, in a county where undervoting averages out at just 2 percent. Democratic precincts had 75 percent more under- votes than Republican ones.

...

In Mahoning County, Washington Post reporters found that many people had been victims of “vote hopping,” which is to say that voting machines highlighted a choice of one candidate after the voter had recorded a preference for another.

... in practically every case where lines were too long or machines too few the foul-up was in a Democratic county or precinct, and in practically every case where machines produced impossible or improbable outcomes it was the challenger who suffered and the actual or potential Democratic voters who were shortchanged, discouraged, or held up to ridicule as chronic undervoters or as sudden converts to fringe-party losers.

...

Whichever way you shake it, or hold it to the light, there is something about the Ohio election that refuses to add up. The sheer number of irregularities compelled a formal recount, which was completed in late December and which came out much the same as the original one, with 176 fewer votes for George Bush. But this was a meaningless exercise in reassurance, since there is simply no means of checking, for example, how many “vote hops” the computerized machines might have performed unnoticed.

...

It was often said, in reply to charges of vote tampering, that it would have had to be “a conspiracy so immense” as to involve a dangerously large number of people. Indeed, some Ohio Democrats themselves laughed off some of the charges, saying that they too would have had to have been part of the plan ...

I had the chance to spend quality time with someone who came to me well recommended, who did not believe that fraud had yet actually been demonstrated, whose background was in the manufacture of the machines, and who wanted to be anonymous. It certainly could be done, she said, and only a very, very few people would have to be “in on it.” This is because of the small number of firms engaged in the manufacturing and the even smaller number of people, subject as they are to the hiring practices of these firms, who understand the technology. “Machines were put in place with no sampling to make sure they were ‘in control’ and no comparison studies,” she explained. “The code of the machines is not public knowledge, and none of these machines has since been impounded.” In these circumstances, she continued, it’s possible to manipulate both the count and the proportions of votes.

In the bad old days of Tammany Hall, she pointed out, you had to break the counter pins on the lever machines, and if there was any vigilance in an investigation, the broken pins would automatically incriminate the machine. With touch-screen technology, the crudeness and predictability of the old ward-heeler racketeers isn’t the question anymore. But had there been a biased “setting” on the new machines it could be uncovered—if a few of them could be impounded. The Ohio courts are currently refusing all motions to put the state’s voting machines, punch-card or touch-screen, in the public domain. It’s not clear to me, or to anyone else, who is tending the machines in the meanwhile …

I asked her, finally, what would be the logical grounds for deducing that any tampering had in fact occurred. “Well, I understand from what I have read,” she said, “that the early exit polls on the day were believed by both parties.” That, I was able to tell her from direct experience, was indeed true. But it wasn’t quite enough, either. So I asked, “What if all the anomalies and malfunctions, to give them a neutral name, were distributed along one axis of consistency: in other words, that they kept on disadvantaging only one candidate?” My question was hypothetical, as she had made no particular study of Ohio, but she replied at once: “Then that would be quite serious.”



I don't have much to add to this. I don't know if the Ohio vote was on the up-and-up. But I am inclined to say that this is precisely the point: I don't know, and neither does anyone else. It would seem that the GOP had both the means to tamper with the vote and (obviously) the motive. Do you trust them to keep their hands out of the cookie jar even when no one is looking?

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