Elections, election…

by Chris Bertram on November 25, 2004

I linked last week to an op-ed by John Allen Paulos about the conclusions that might (or might not) be drawn from the recent Presidential election. Now he’s written a piece about the possibility of election fraud , which draws on work by Steve Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania. His conclusion in part:

The election has prompted extensive allegations of fraud, some of which have been debunked, but many of which have not. In several cases non-trivial errors have been established and official tallies changed. And there is one more scenario that doesn’t require many conspirators: the tabulating machines and the software they run conceivably could have been dragooned into malevolent service by relatively few operatives. Without paper trails, this would be difficult, but probably not impossible, to establish. Hard evidence? Definitely not. Nevertheless, the present system is such a creaky patchwork and angry suspicions are so prevalent that there is, despite the popular vote differential, a fear that the election was tainted and possibly stolen.

In completely unrelated news US Secretary of State Colin Powell declared of the Ukrainian elections :

We cannot accept this result as legitimate because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse. We have been following developments very closely and are deeply disturbed by the extensive and credible reports of fraud in the election. We call for a full review of the conduct of the election and the tallying of election results.

{ 23 comments }

1

Vinny 11.25.04 at 1:34 pm

I wonder whether people in Moscow and Kiev are as struck by the irony of this as are those of us in the West?

2

abb1 11.25.04 at 1:39 pm

Reminds me of this satirical piece by Rahul Mahajan: Arafat Calls for Democratic Elections in the United States;World Reaction is Mixed

3

Jeremy Pierce 11.25.04 at 1:54 pm

Irony? That’s complete idiocy. Everyone who knows anything about election fraud and its history knows that we’ve been tending to get better on that over time, and this election was no exception. The move to computer voting created some problems, and we’ve gotten better at detecting problems due to better technology and more attention to finding them, but the sort of thing we’ve seen here is nothing new and nothing incredibly worrisome. In the Ukraine you have a very different situation. You have a candidate who contested the the election rather than conceding. You have the same international community that said the outcome of our election is not in question saying that that election is in question. You have clear signs that whatever fraud might have taken place could have affected the outcome, with no such signs with the American election. Every error reported was investigated and fixed if possible, and it didn’t change the final outcome and wouldn’t have even if it couldn’t be fixed to a desirable level of exactitude. Equal Vote is one of the best blogs dealing with these issues, since it’s really the specialty of that blog, and it’s the most balanced treatment I’ve seen so far, with no partisan bias detectable. Equal Vote’s conclusion about the U.S. election: I’m not persuaded that “Kerry Won,” and we’ve not seen any evidence yet that remotely supports that conclusion. But some of the problems that we witnessed in this election warrant more careful scrutiny.

4

Jason Kuznicki 11.25.04 at 2:10 pm

What I find ironic is that a Republican administration demands international verification of a foreign election–while Republicans are infuriated by the suggestion that foreign observers ought to examine U.S. elections.

At best, these foreigners could learn something about the democratic process. At worst, they would help us learn a thing or two ourselves. What’s to lose?

5

Ayjay 11.25.04 at 3:43 pm

Paulos’s essay is a classic example of straightforward intellectual dishonesty: begged questions, weaselly use of the passive voice, insinuations without direct accusations.

a) “extensive allegations of fraud” How does Paulos define “extensive”? Apparently the allegations of fraud can be extensive without the party who lost the election, or any major U. S. or international newspaper or magazine, participating in them.

b) “many [such allegations] have not [been debunked]” But why have they not been debunked? If it is my personal belief that Bush conspired with the Elders of Zion to steal the election, and no one has stepped forward to debunk that belief, does it gain credibility thereby?

c) “non-trivial errors have been established” By whom? and what were the errors? and who did they favor?

d) “official tallies changed” Where and by whom? and in whose favor?

e) There is “no hard evidence” that “the tabulating machines and the software they run [were] dragooned into malevolent service” Nor is there any soft evidence, or liquid evidence, or even gaseous evidence. There is no evidence at all to support such a claim. But by saying that there is no “hard” evidence Paiulos encourages the suspicion that there is some other kind.

f) “Nevertheless, . . . angry suspicions are so prevalent that there is, despite the popular vote differential, a fear that the election was tainted and possibly stolen” The still-undefined and -unproven “prevalence” of “suspicion” and “fear” — presumably among Paulos’s friends and three or four webstes he reads — are apparently to be counted as “evidence” of fraud. I wonder if Paulos is ready to apply the categorical imperative to this curious criterion of evidence: if a certain number of people suspect that something happened, one must take the possibility seriously. Or maybe the rule only applies if we substitute “Democrats” for “people.”

And if that’s not what he’s saying, then what is he saying?

Paulos is a guy who has made a career of showing that, because of widespread innumeracy, Americans habitually miscalculate the likelihood of events — including, especially, possible events whose occurence they fear. But it turns out that when there is no mathematical information to be had, Paulos has as little understanding of evidence and probability as the most innumerate redneck in RedStateLand.

(And by the way, I say all this as someone who did not vote for Bush.)

6

robbo 11.25.04 at 4:36 pm

There was abundant evidence of fraud in Florida in 2000, way more than enough to put Bush in office in the first place. Thanks to Greg Palast, this is well known and essentially undisputed (at least it seems so to me). It’s Thanksgiving, so I don’t have time to dig up links to this evidence, but if you doubt this you’ve been keeping your head in the sand for four years and are unlikely to surface now.

Whatever you believe abouot Florida 2000, we had four years to show whether America’s commitment to democracy is strong enough to bring the act of voting into the 21st Century. We responded by doing very little. The system is still rigged so that working people still have to stand in lines for many hours to vote, and we have millions of computerized machines that provide no auditable trail.

Did Kerry win? Beats me, but I know that having working people standing out in bad weather for hours on end did nothing to harm Bush’s chances. That’s not supposed to matter to me, because it can’t be characterized as “fraud.”

And Bush won by several points in places where the early exit polling pointed to Kerry wins. This can be explained away statistically, so I should forget Florida 2000 and believe that this time the vote was fair.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I’m going about my business without letting the election results get me too far down, but it’s sad to me that millions of Americans have more faith in the accuracy and legitimacy of our ATM transactions than we do in the presidential election process.

7

Matt Brubeck 11.25.04 at 4:50 pm

The Verified Voting project was calling for volunteers to stay at their polling places until closing, and record the final tallies that were sent from the polling places to the central tabulators. If they did this in enough polling places, they’d have had a good chance to detect any attempts to change the tallies after they reached the central tabulators. (I haven’t looked at any post-election reports of how widely they were able to perform this verification.)

8

abb1 11.25.04 at 7:18 pm

The (unkown to me) British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) reports:

This preliminary report of the BHHRG’s observers on the controversial second round of the Ukrainian presidential elections challenges the widely-disseminated media image of government-sponsored fraud at the expense of an untainted opposition on the basis of first-hand reporting.
Ukrainian Presidential Elections – 2nd Round Preliminary Report
24th November, 2004
[…]
Conclusion:

Whatever may have been the case in south-eastern Ukraine, it was clear to this Group’s observers in central Ukraine and western Ukraine that the opposition exercised near complete control. The broadcast media showed bias towards Mr. Yushchenko in these areas, particularly in western Ukraine where Mr Yanukovich was invisible – not even being shown voting on polling day. It is naïve to think only the government had the facilities to exercise improper influence over the polls. From what BHHRG observed, the opposition exercised disproportionate control over the electoral process in many places, giving rise to concerns that the opposition – not only the authorities – may have committed violations and may have even falsified the vote in opposition-controlled areas. So-called “administrative resources” in places visited by BHHRG appeared to be in the hands of the opposition, not the government, and this may have frightened voters. After all since Sunday, police and security personnel in some western towns have declared their loyalty to “president” Yushchenko.

The open bias of Western governments and their nominated observers in the OSCE delegation, some of whom have appeared on opposition platforms, makes it unreasonable to rely on its report.

In spite of concerns, BHHRG finds no reason to believe that the final result of the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine was not generally representative of genuine popular will. The election featured a genuine choice of candidates, active pre-election campaigns, and high voter participation. It is clear that Ukrainian opinion was highly polarized. That meant many people backing a losing candidate would find it difficult to accept a defeat. Foreigners should not encourage civil conflict because the candidate on whom they have lavished expensive support turned out to be a loser.

9

Jeremy Pierce 11.25.04 at 7:42 pm

Since we stand to lose lots of Ukrainian troops in Iraq if the opposition wins, and because it probably angered Putin, to whom Bush is trying to get closer, I can’t see how we’d be considered biased in saying the opposition’s loss in this election was fraudulent.

As for Florida in 2000, the clearest case of fraud I know about had to do with Republican-heavy mail-in ballots. I don’t know how much genuine fraud there was, but most of the complaints I heard were about incompetence in Democratic-controlled polling spots, which isn’t fraud favoring Republicans. It’s incompetence from Democrats shooting themselves in the foot. It’s also been pretty established that whatever shady activity there was on the part of Republicans, the ridiculous numbers being bandied about by prominent figures are just impossible, which leads me to doubt the veracity of most of it. Fabricating numbers and fabricating the phenomenon itself aren’t the same thing, but I wouldn’t put it past someone who fabricates numbers also to be the kind of person who will fabricate the whole phenomenon.

10

Chris Bertram 11.25.04 at 8:13 pm

abb1: the BHHRG are a pretty dodgy outfit and one of their most prominent members is one John Laughland who has a history “unusual” opinions. See “one of my previous posts”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002269.html for more info. Bottom line: this group has nothing much to do with a human rights agenda in the usual sense.

11

Tom T. 11.25.04 at 8:20 pm

The WaPo is reporting that Yanukovych went so far as to fund a group of election monitors. The members of this group, described by the Post as “Democratic former congressmen,” were each paid $500 per day (plus expenses), and they returned a highly positive assessment of the first round of the Ukrainian elections. The Post notes that this view “ran counter to those of most other observers.”

12

nic 11.25.04 at 8:30 pm

In the Ukraine you have a very different situation. You have a candidate who contested the the election rather than conceding.

Now that’s a good point. Shame on Kerry (and Gore).

13

Scott McArthur 11.25.04 at 8:38 pm

What is so disappointing in the 2000 and 2004 American Presidential election is that even if actual fraud did not occur there is the possibility that fraud could have occurred. This is dangerous and it has been a grave error on the part of the policy and political elite in America on both sides of the spectrum not to have worked tirelessly to place the very possibility of fraud out of the public mind, both domestic and international. For in not attacking it with zeal there is de facto a tacit acceptance of ‘as good as possible’ which anti democratic forces in emerging domocracies all accross the world are going to take as a signal that perhaps the system can be gamed systematically.

In particular the two Bush elections, ragardless of their degree of cleanliness, have shown how you pull off a successful electoral fraud. By this I do not mean the actual process of the fraud be it ballot box stuffing or ledger manipulation at the electoral commission. What I mean is that the process of certifying electoral fraud has been demonstrated.

First, you must have an existing executive or other authority that can certify your results quickly. The United States demonstrated the method through the Supreme Court, an example which I am not sure was understood at the time. Under unrelenting appeals to order an authority can be tempted to certify a result as “good enough”

The second element is to insure that the result is close. You can’t win by fraud by overwhelming majority, in fact the closer the better because it ligitimates the idea of “a close hard one contest”.

I haven’t flushed this idea out completely but I think something very serious is happening and we had better take steps to stamp it out or the idea of Democracy could rapidly deligitimate.

I can just see Putin seeing the 2004 presidential results as a green light to fiddle the Ukraine out of its choice.

Legitimacy and transparancy should become our new political obsessions.

14

Peter Murphy 11.26.04 at 2:41 am

Everyone who knows anything about election fraud and its history knows that we’ve been tending to get better on that over time, and this election was no exception. The move to computer voting created some problems, and we’ve gotten better at detecting problems due to better technology and more attention to finding them, but the sort of thing we’ve seen here is nothing new and nothing incredibly worrisome.

After nearly 230 years as a republic, it’s a bit late for this “evolutionary” approach to battling electoral fraud. Some of us (such as those in Australia and Canada) take it for granted that tabulation errors in our elections are as close to zero as possible. These are elections conducted with paper and pen. Since both these countries share the same language (and one is next door to the US), thre seems no good reason why the US shouldn’t have learnt from them by now.

No good reasons, but plenty of excuses: parochialism and donations from electoral voting firms among them.

15

p 11.26.04 at 3:01 am

I must say that I think that there was fraud during the past election … There have been numerous allegations made that the Democrats attempted to steal the election from Bush.

16

derrida derider 11.26.04 at 3:57 am

Whatever the story in 2000 (when Gore was certainly robbed by fraud and chicanery, not least by SCOTUS), you’re fooling yourself if you think Bush didn’t win the vote in 2004. If electronic voting machines were manipulated to the extent needed to change the overall result then even cursory statistical studies would show it beyond doubt (eg just compare the relative differences between exit polls and final results in precincts with different tallying methods).

Nope, 2004 only demonstrated that there are a lot of really dumb voters out there.

17

derrida derider 11.26.04 at 3:58 am

Whatever the story in 2000 (when Gore was certainly robbed by fraud and chicanery, not least by SCOTUS), you’re fooling yourself if you think Bush didn’t win the vote in 2004. If electronic voting machines were manipulated to the extent needed to change the overall result then even cursory statistical studies would show it beyond doubt (eg just compare the relative differences between exit polls and final results in precincts with different tallying methods).

Nope, 2004 only demonstrated that there are a lot of really dumb voters out there.

18

Chairm 11.26.04 at 7:40 am

>>> I know that having working people standing out in bad weather for hours on end did nothing to harm Bush’s chances.

– Yep. Those unemployed people voted for Bush in droves, right? Heh.

– Is your beef about the lack of seats at the polls? Do you think good weather would have NOT aided Bush voter turnout?

But maybe you have more than a hunch that not many working people voted for Bush and, if there were long waits in que, only those who’d vote Dem were effected.

I really don’t think that the lack of seats, less than ideal weather, and long waits actually tipped the election fraudulently, if at all, toward one candidate or the other.

19

Matt 11.26.04 at 4:08 pm

Well it seems from the public hearings and sworn testimony in Ohio (see also here) that ‘democracy’ is not yet coming to the U.S.A., as least not uncontaminated by class warfare, racism and other such wild and savage conspiracies. CommonDreams.org has some more outrageous coverage.

20

yoy 11.27.04 at 11:05 am

Robbo

”It’s Thanksgiving, so I don’t have time to dig up links to this evidence”

It isn’t Thanksgiving now so perhaps you can dig those links up for us…

21

Matt 11.28.04 at 5:45 pm

22

jimminycricket 11.29.04 at 10:56 am

“the sort of thing we’ve seen here is nothing new and nothing incredibly worrisome”

(Third post from top, thread above.)

Please elaborate on this statement. Is there a possibility that there are new things you haven’t seen? If so, how credible and worrying a possibility in your view?

23

jimminycricket 11.29.04 at 10:57 am

“the sort of thing we’ve seen here is nothing new and nothing incredibly worrisome”

(Third post from top, thread above.)

Please elaborate on this statement. Is there a possibility that there are new things you haven’t seen? If so, how credible and worrying a possibility in your view?

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